At first, we thought it was another one of our April Fools’ spoofs. The news report last week said Sarasota city commissioners instructed city staff to compile a list of the city’s top 10 properties that could be sold to the private sector to raise cash.
Surely not. This sounded too good to be true.
But, lo and behold, and much to our shock, it was true.
Finally, common sense is infecting the commissioners.
In a perfect world, where the role of government is to protect its citizenry from violence and criminal force and to serve as an arbiter in disputes (the courts), county and municipal governments would not own any land. Everything would be privatized — including parks.
Oh, you might be able to make a case for municipalities and county governments owning their city halls, administration buildings and courthouses. But if you think through all of the functions governments now perform — i.e. pick up trash, maintain streets, provide water, protect against fire and crime, jail criminals, maintain parks, operate libraries, etc., in truth all of these functions and services easily could be — and should be — the work of the private sector. There really is no need for a city to own property or to employ people to perform these services.
Think of it this way: When the city owns land, that property no longer produces tax revenue for the city. Instead, the property taxes that might otherwise be paid on that land by a private owner are shifted to the tax-paying public. The more land the city or county owns, the higher the property-tax burden for its existing residents and businesses.
And it’s not just the lost property-tax revenues that are shifted. Taxpayers also must pay for the maintenance of those properties.
Kudos to the commissioners for taking this step. Let’s hope they follow through on what easily could be a win-win-win for the city’s coffers and taxpayers. If they sell city-owned property, the city pockets the cash on the sale, creates a new, steady stream of property-tax revenue in perpetuity and, in all likelihood, creates higher property values (and taxes) on the surrounding properties. If you turn an unproductive property into a productive property, that effect spills over to its neighbors.
We have all seen how this works: When you improve the value of your property, your neighbor benefits.
Sell it, commissioners. Sell every last parcel the city owns.
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