Water Summit

Property taxes must serve public values

Presently, properties are taxed at their "highest and best use." Unfortunately that is defined as the use most involved in the economic system - for instance, to clearcut a forest, or to turn a farm into a parking lot, rather than to provide wildlife habitat, produce oxygen, or support bees and butterflies.


This is phrased inclusively, with water benefits as one important factor.


The value of land needs to be redefined, first to place highest value on what serves the public good in terms of clean water, food production, cleanair, and places such as wetlands that serve wildlife and the good of all. Climate change should be included as part of this valuation.


Then, tax credits or tax breaks should go to farms and land supporting the public good – including but not limited to organic, permaculture, regenerative farming - and including sensible water management that captures water to be reused on the land itself (swales, checkdams, and other simple methods), replacing methods such as tiling that pass water down to flood the neighbors and the rivers while then requiring irrigation on the tiled land.


It should be easy to apply for them, not requiring hours of incomprehensible paperwork, and the application should not be contingent on any particular use of the land (such as farmers only, or conversion from chemical farming only) but available to all owners. Whether seen as a credit (for sustainable land use) or a penalty (for pavement, chemical agriculture, CAFOs, clearcutting and the like) the tax structure should be clearly defined in a way that encourages the use we actually want to see happen. That use needs to be about supporting life first, including future generations, with profit coming later.


Incidentally, when calculating economic consequences, the value of producing food, of protecting health (by forests that produce oxygen, by food that actually contains nutrients, by removing toxins that make people sick), and other values such as farming, woodland products, and tourism need to be included, not just jobs.



Idea No. 216