Monday, November 14, 2005

Putting a Price Tag on a View

If you know anything about me, you know I don't take too kindly to taxes of any kind. The more taxes we have, the more money we are forced to surrender to our government for God knows what. One of the most ridiculous and useless taxes is the property tax. With property values skyrocketing, one would assume that officials could cut homeowners some slack and either freeze or cut them. That would be naive, as government officials never miss an opportunity to line their pockets with more of our dough.

Well, according to a Washington Post article, town officials in New Hampshire are beginning to assess the "view factors" of real estate they deem to have valuable panoramas of the Connecticut River valley, among other areas. In fact, the values of these views have risen ten-fold in the last ten years from $20,000 to $200,000. It makes you wonder, how can you put a price tag on an inanimate object like a view? And furthermore, how does it become MORE valuable over time?

Tackling the first question is easy, you don't. It's ludicrous to expect a homeowner to pay taxes out of their hard-earned income simply to enjoy a nice view after a long day at the office. Has anyone ever owned that view? Was it purchased along with the land or the home on that land? Again the answer is no, because nobody has rights over a view. No one person can come in and change a view, only parts of it. Forests can be cleared but the overall landscape, the mountains and hills or the ocean and its beaches, remain the same.

Ownership and rights are accompanied by the ability to change what you possess. If you own a house, you can add on to it. If you own a farm, you can have whatever livestock you wish. If you own a stock portfolio, you determine what stocks to purchase. However, if one were to own a view, then they must be allowed to change it as they see fit. Therefore, ownership is impossible since alterations are as well.

The second question, regarding the appreciation of value over time, the answer again is simple. Since at the moment, towns can assess value to a view, I'll simply work off of this fact. In ten years, will there be any improvement to the view? Will the changing colors be more vibrant in a fall five years after the initial purchase of the property? No, nothing changes unless the town decides to initiate a restoration program in which case a small tax hike may be necessary in order to fund the project, but only after gaining approval from the townspeople.

Taxing someone for having a nice view is one of the most ridiculous revenue-generating schemes I've ever heard of. Since the grandfather clause protects anyone who has owned the property since before the tax, anyone expecting to move into the area will have to be able to afford a pretty hefty property tax bill. In the case of one New Hampshire homeowner, his home is worth $237,265 and his property tax bill is $4,700/year. This is money he must take out of his disposable income which would otherwise be invested, spent, or simply saved in a bank. Instead it goes to fund a tiny government in small-town New Hampshire that shouldn't need but a few million dollars to operate efficiently.

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