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Editorial: Be careful with abatement plan

Worthington City Hall (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Members of the Worthington City Council, as well as the Nobles County Board of Commissioners and District 518 Board of Education, are giving careful consideration to a proposal that would grant a five-year, 100 percent tax abatement for single-family houses with an assessed market value of $200,000.

We understand and appreciate the goal behind the plan -- stimulating home construction. But we're not sure if the proposal is necessary to begin with.

During a joint city council/county commissioners/school board meeting last week, a number of elected officials voiced reasonable concerns. One poignant remark came from school board member Mark Shepherd, who noted that three or four homes of that value were already being built without the suggested abatement program in place. "What I am questioning is the fairness to existing taxpayers -- the shift for the first three to four houses that are built each year," Shepherd said.

Another school board member, Linden Olson, also spoke out against the proposal as it was put forth. "Who will benefit the most? The people who are building those houses or owning the houses -- the upper-income people. I don't think it's fair to give upper income people the tax break that is not available to anyone else."

Nobles County Commissioner Diane Thier suggested amending the proposal to a one-year abatement and stated, "Let's say it's only for contractors -- they build a home so they don't pay taxes until it's sold or rented." She also said that going along with a countywide abatement plan would result in county commissioners getting "crucified" by their constituents, because it wouldn't necessarily have direct benefit to them.

Worthington Alderman Lyle Ten Haken suggested moving the proposal forward for the short term, and that's understandable. Worthington stands more to gain than anywhere else in the county, as plenty of folks likely live now live outside the city but work there. A tax abatement, in turn, may give them incentive to construct a home in greater proximity to their place of employment.

We suggest giving the proposal a one-year tryout, at most, and seeing if it's beneficial to everyone before potentially extending it on a longer-term basis.