May 24, 2007

Foster private ownership of land

Riverside Press Enterprise

I am responding to Cassie MacDuff's column, "Tax rolls, my foot" (May 18), in which she characterized my proposed county tax-sale policy as a disingenuous and politically motivated effort to block the good works of conservation organizations.

Such organizations for years have been acquiring private land at below-market prices and then conveying that land to the federal government. In so doing, they have used a loophole in state law to skirt a prohibition against the federal government purchasing such lands without going to public auction.

MacDuff's assumption that my policy would prevent conservation groups from purchasing such land altogether is incorrect. It would only require that county taxpayers receive a fair price for the land.

MacDuff inappropriately compares this situation to the county's recent purchases of two buildings necessary to house a courthouse and a jail.
She argued that the county's desire to keep tax-defaulted properties on the tax rolls also means that the county should have preferred to lease rather than buy the two buildings to keep them in private ownership, paying property taxes.

These two buildings, the Adelanto jail and the "303" courthouse building, were indeed purchased by the county. But I believe this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Leasing those buildings would have cost far more than the 1 percent valuation the county would have received in property taxes because of the lost equity that would have resulted. Owning the buildings gives the county assets it could sell or borrow against if necessary.

MacDuff said my proposed policy is about my opposition to the Desert Protection Act of 1994. My policy has nothing to do with the Desert Protection Act. She asked my opinion about the act, so I told her. But she had no basis to equate those two separate issues.

My motivations in this matter are simple and straightforward: to promote and preserve private ownership of land and encourage human stewardship of lands in our desert. I also want to ensure that taxpayers receive fair-market value for county-owned land by requiring tax sales to be publicly held at auction.

Finally, I want to keep properties in private ownership whenever possible so that the tax revenue collected can help pay for critically needed infrastructure and public services, such as police and fire protection.

Brad Mitzelfelt is a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.