I recently received a letter written by Ron Whalen regarding the County Real Estate Excise Tax and specifically the County Land Bank. As a volunteer steward of Land Bank property, I am appalled at his attitude and misinformation.
The San Juan County Land Bank was formed in 1990 by a vote of the citizens of San Juan County. Its mandate is “To preserve in perpetuity, areas in the county that have environmental, agricultural, aesthetic, cultural scientific, historic, scenic or low-intensity recreational value..” To date, the Land Bank has acquired over 4,800 acres throughout the county with 70 percent of that land open and available for public use. What better mission could there be than to preserve land for use by us and generations to come.
Whalen states that the Land Bank has taken “over SIXTY-SIX million dollars” of property off the tax rolls. That number is false; the real number is less than $35 million. The majority of land purchased were parcels where little or no property taxes were being paid. The total value of taxable real estate in the county is $7.5 billion. Thus the $35 million represents less than .05% which seems like a more than reasonable “sacrifice” for protecting land for future generations.
The “Land Bank administrative costs are far too high.” Again false. The ordinance creating the Land Bank stipulates that administrative costs be less than 10 percent of revenue. To date, those costs have averaged about six percent. I think we should applaud the Land Bank management and staff for keeping costs to a minimum especially during this time of rising costs in almost every sector of the economy.
The ordinance creating the Land Bank passed with a large majority (60 percent); it passed again in 1999 with an overwhelming majority (70 percent).
I urge fellow citizens of San Juan County to show that same support and reject Whalen’s proposal to abolish the Land Bank.
James G. Goetz