Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Central Place Theory...or not

Ghost town in Nebraska sued for taxing farmers

Rock Bluff, Nebraska was a sizeable town 150 years ago. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River about 30 miles south of Omaha, Rock Bluff was incorporated in 1856, and boasted of three stores, a port, two blacksmith shops, three churches, a post office, more than 100 homes and it's county's first high school.

Town officials, convinced a boom was imminent, annexed thousands of acres into the village's incorporation limits. The boom, though, bypassed Rock Bluff when the railroad bridge across the Missouri River was constructed at Plattsmouth, 10 miles north. By 1910, not much was left of the town. Today, Rock Bluff is no longer listed on a Nebraska map (not even on Mapquest) and consists of corn fields, 12 single family homes, and an old school building called Rock Bluffs School (yes, with an "s"). It has no government, provides no services, nothing indicating it's even a community.

But here's my point. The town (or what's left of it) includes 600 acres of prime farmland that a judge has ruled should be valued and taxed at $1,750 an acre because it's in the "city limits." If it were outside the limits, the value would only be $1,300 per acre, presumably because it's further from any non-existent magnet site. Because Rock Bluff never took official steps to dissolve itself, it legally still exists; therefore the farmers should be paying taxes on $450 additional value per acre -- what adds up to taxes on an additional $270,000 per year. Hence the farmers are suing to "secede" from a city that currently exists only on paper and in history.

But there's another twist. Omaha exurbs are beginning to encroach on this area. A major subdivision of 1,700 people lies one mile away from the city limits and county officials just approved a new project within the incorporation consisting of a campground with 24 R.V. spaces. Officials say thousands of acres are now ripe for development because of suburbanization and the magnetic, panoramic views of the river.

So...the boom is coming, 150 years later. Maybe Rock Bluff should tax those farmers after all.

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