DON'T FEED THE ALLIGATORS
By Joe Kress
October 6, 2007
If you live in South Carolina then you know all about the warning not to feed alligators because the reptile can’t differentiate a friendly hand from a marshmallow.
South Carolinians are wise in some ways and innocent in other ways. They even know what kind of snakes can kill you, the animal kind, but not necessarily the human kind. They’re especially innocent when it comes to alligators, the human kind, those that will take a penny from a dead man’s eye. (Now there is a cliché, that readers don’t often come across, since it’s no longer necessary to use a penny to keep the eyelid closed.) Anyway, the point is there are some pretty smart predators out there in the business world that lie in wait for several years before making their move just like the gator or the cottonmouth.
It all started back in 1865 at the end of the Civil War when a bunch of reptiles, the human kind, came down from the North, carrying carpet bags, along with the Union soldiers and then set up a new civil government as bad as any the Soviets and the Nazis ever created. They appointed ex-slaves to fill public offices and used them to establish “takings laws” that they conjured up. They then told the former slave office holders to increase taxes on properties so high that the devastated white land owners couldn’t possibly come up with the greenbacks to pay the tax collectors. The Carpetbaggers, as they were called, accompanied the black tax collectors they appointed to issue the leans to the farmers. When they returned to confiscate the land, they brought with them a column of Union Soldiers to make sure of their own survival because of the outrage they were causing.
One thing that favored the poor Southern farmer was his tolerance for heat and an enormous capacity to survive. As it turned out, the reptiles from the North didn’t know how to use the land once they confiscated it, since they knew only stealth, cruelty, pillage and the art of the swindle, but not growing cotton. Most of the ex-slaves still lived on the farms along with their former masters which were as poor as they were. And both survived on what few vegetables and chickens they could grow.
The Carpetbaggers and their friends in the U.S. congress created laws that caused whole parcels of Southern farmland to be divided among the ex-slaves as a form of retribution, but in their lack of wisdom or on purpose, failed to issue deeds to the recipients. Though deception many of the former slaves sold their land for pennies and landed up as sharecroppers on the very land they once owned. By the way, many whites met the same fate.
A few years later, with the help of President Andrew Johnson’s singular defense of Southern rights, a renewed form of local governments emerged and the carpetbaggers soon were encouraged to leave or be driven out on a rail covered with steaming tar and feathers.
The people in the South remained extremely poor for the rest of the 19th century and over half of the 20th. Around 1930-39, undeveloped land was purchased for as little as thirty cents an acre. That is when a new more sophisticated bunch of Carpetbaggers emerged from the North, once again. These gators had plenty of loot. They came out of corporations. Air conditioning for keeping produce fresh was a new phenomenon and they saw the writing on the wall. They then proceeded to buy huge tracks of land, nearly 90 years after the Civil War for as little as only a dollar an acre. They let their holdings remain undeveloped and taxed at raw land rates until the early 1970s when development and the developers emerged, first slowly then to the level of what we see today.
The Southern politicians were meat to the gators when it came to “hornswoggling” them. Here in South Carolina, the Sheriff was the center of power and most of the other elected politicos were rubberstampers. Make a deal with the sheriff and whatever happened afterwards was too late to correct, even if the rubberstampers objected. Most of the common people were left out of the equation because whenever anyone objected to what was going on, something would happen to them if they caused heartache to the sheriff and his ruling establishment.
And now in the first years of the 21st century, the vestiges of the 19th and 20th century Southern politics have hardly changed, except for the characters. The sheriff’s position is no longer the powerhouse that it was, but the old line families and their couturiers still wield considerable power from father to son. Old familiar names keep popping up in the political scene or as backers for their favorite candidates.
The reptilian forces from the North have hornswaggled (there I go again with that word) the local leaders into allowing them to develop all that land they were holding without regard to the quality of life within the area. The gators brought armies of lawyers with them to make deals whereby whole developments with hundreds, even thousands of homes are planned and are being built in outlying areas.
Our elected doofuses never saw it coming. Saw what coming? Why the need for more roads, sewer lines, pumping stations, more schools, more teachers, more bridges, sidewalks, more police, more firemen, more fire houses, more police stations, more police cars, more fire engines, more maintenance personnel, more maintenance buildings, more ambulances, more emergency personnel, more libraries, more books, more librarians, more hospitals, more doctors and nurses, more welfare, all to support the new development housing projects that the gators planned and were not asked to pay for up front. Whew!
The key to selling these developments is the schools in locations that are favorable to the developers. That is where the gators are now concentrating. There are those in the feed line that gain from massive sprawl that confronts all of us and to ensure that they receive a piece of the action, developers join with politicians for the public to pick up most of the infrastructure costs starting with building more terribly expensive schools. Without the schools, the gators can’t unload their investments at a huge profit and the builders lose a ton of money.
South Carolina has a law that schools cannot be financed by using impact fees - a gift from the previous governor to his special interest friends that contributed to his failed reelection campaign.
There is a study by the Thurmond Institute of Clemson University relative to a major residential development that had valuable historic and environmental consequences involving the property and the entire surrounding area. The land was purchased by a New York owned firm that wanted to build 4,000 units of residential housing and cause an enormous impact on traffic and infrastructure support provided by the County taxpayers. The Clemson study determined that each new housing unit would requires $20,000 in infrastructure costs. The developer offered $1,000 per unit. The gators considered all the county’s concerns as irrelevant using the hackneyed reply that they are doing enough by building their own sewer lines and roads within the development. They didn’t acknowledge that it has been the practice that the roads within subdivisions become state maintenance problems and not the developers. This is just another neat arrangement by past political hacks with support in the S.C. Department of Transportation which in 2006 couldn’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures.
The County Council, in the case of the Watson Hill tract was under enormous public pressure, so they didn’t buy that line of reasoning and neither did the town council of Summerville, S.C. that would have to shoulder part of the burden. The members of both councils recognized the need for adequate roads, sewer lines to connect to the developer’s land and the lack of funds without more tax increases. Finally, after years of apathy, because of the problems associated with other unplanned for development, they agreed to impose impact fees on developers to cover the cost of sewer and water lines and new pumping stations. But what about new schools which amount to a major portion of the local property tax bill? The school board’s solution as of today, is to lay on the cost to taxpayers of Dorchester County involving more public debt-creating bond referendums. Voters turned down a previous request for more school construction projects, so the local school board decided to replace that arduous task of more bond referendum procedures. The board adopted an alternative funding plan, that was later determined to be illegal by the state legislature.
The alternative to school building referendums that the public failed to support was a scheme to skirt the taxpaying public by adopting a flimflam plan formulated by consultant “experts” in the art of hornswoggling (not that word again!). The plan was to create a non-profit organization as a part of the school system, but independent in matters related to financing. The non-profit corporation would assume responsibility for administrating construction of the new schools that are to belong to investors who purchase the bonds. Until the school bonds are redeemed, the schools would be paid off through a rent to purchase arrangement. The new schools were financed at a higher interest rate than general obligation bonds. The financing firm that created this scheme marketed the bonds through a bank in Switzerland. Soon it was discovered, that the cost of new schools exceeded the amount of proceeds from the sale of the bonds which included paying the finance charges, marketing fees and commissions. The cost of salaries for non-profit corporation’s management salaries on property that the school district doesn’t own became another added expense. Within two years of implementing the plan, the local taxpayers received a whopping increase in their property millage rate.
School District 2 within Dorchester County, S.C. is so overcrowded that there isn’t enough desk space and some children sit on the floor or stand during classes.
Despite past history where uncontrolled growth has created a nightmare for the public’s quality of life, the local Chamber of Commerce continues its attempt to block all efforts for reform except recommending promotion of special tax districts which turns out to be just another means to transfer tax burdens from developers to the established communities. The State Legislature still has not got off its duff to pass legislation to allow impact fees to cover the cost of new schools. The full brunt of new school construction is laid at the feet of those retired homeowners who have already raised their children and paid their way including all those who rent and pay property taxes that are passed on to them by their landlords.
New buyers, locating in South Carolina, pay the full amount of tax on their lots in the first tax year after the closing. However, they don’t pay the tax on their new houses until two years after closing. This is the result of an antiquated system that hasn’t caught up with the 20th Century, and is allowed to persist in the 21st.
Developers pay significant lower agriculture property tax rates until actual construction of the housing units is completed but for the final nail, leaving the lower tax rate until the customer asks about the final nail that would trigger an increase tax on the entire property. Developers can sit for years on whole tracts of land and pay hardly any property tax even while the land is designated as development land. As to impact fees… unless legislation is approved and signed by the governor, no new schools can be built using impact fees to cover costs that exceed local limits on debt without approval of a bond referendum by the local residents within a school district. The Adequate Facility Ordinance (local county and town initiatives) to insure funds are available for planned developments is one answer to the problem of unfunded mandates initiated by developers. This is one way to counter the pressure exerted by mega- developer firms and their beneficiaries on the feed line who have the money and the power to influence state legislators and local politicians to action or inaction.
The experience of Dorchester County, S.C. can be duplicated in many states that hold on to outdated laws and restrictive rules that serve the interests of the few at the expense of the many. South Carolinians are facing enormous debt, mainly because of politics born from a culture of the past.
© 2007 Joe Kress - All Rights Reserved
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The "Curmudgeon", Joseph H. Kress, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret) obtain a B.S. in Business Administration, with a major in economics and minor in accounting.
He served in England and Viet Nam where he received the Bronze Star during the TET Offensive, then he was appointed Chief of Supply for two state-side assignments; the DOD's Defense Disposal Agency where he was chief of disposal operations for all of Southeast Asia, based at CINCPAC Headquarters in Hawaii. He retired from Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio as chief of supply with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the age of 52, and now he and his wife reside in Summerville, S.C.
leaving the military, he was involved in political campaigns, writing
articles for the local papers, and as a realtor.