The Jackson Herald - September 1, 1999
The mobile home debate
When my friend and colleague Elliott Brack spoke to the Jackson
County Area Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago, he poked his
finger in the eye of a long-simmering debate - mobile homes.
As he said in that talk, he wanted to discuss issues that many
people talk about in private, but are loath to discuss in public.
While Elliott set the housing debate simmering, it is sure to
become even hotter at a Sept. 16 meeting where numbers nerd Doug
Bachtel will do a public presentation. Sponsored by this newspaper
and the chamber, Bachtel plans to outline various statistical
data about Jackson County, including information related to housing.
It is the first in a series of public meetings on evaluating
where Jackson County stands at the dawn of the 21st century.
Many believe that most other issues in Jackson County revolve
around housing. Of particular concern is the large number of
mobile homes, or manufactured housing, that dot Jackson County's
landscape. For public policy-makers, the growth in mobile homes
locally has become a source of unending irritation. Because mobile
homes are inexpensive and because they lose value over time,
they are a very small and continually declining source of property
tax income to local governments.
On the other hand, residents in mobile homes require just as
many public services as those living in more expensive housing.
Some believe that mobile home residents require even more services
since many young families with school-age children live in manufactured
What all this means is that the property tax burden in the county
shifts to other residential homeowners, large landowners and
commercial or industrial properties. Traditional homeowners and
large landowners often feel that's unfair, that in effect, they
are subsidizing mobile home owners.
Because of this imbalance, local government officials react in
a variety of ways. For one thing, they seek to lure commercial
and industrial projects to the county in an effort to keep up
with the growing demand on services. But that growth has its
own cost for new infrastructure, thus amplifying the growth in
local government spending.
The way to slow that spiral, they believe, is to slow the growth
in mobile homes. If more people would build homes, the values
would stabilize and even grow, thus adding to the tax base rather
than taking away from it.
That generates another government response in zoning controls
to, in effect, discourage mobile home ownership while promoting
traditional homes. But again, to have traditional homes that
compete in price with mobile homes, local governments have to
spend money on sewer and other infrastructure upgrades.
There are other implications in this issue as well. For one thing,
local leaders have to be careful not to create a market of only
expensive housing and thereby move many people from the local
labor force to other counties. In addition, leaders should also
acknowledge that there is value in having low-cost housing available
for those who work in local businesses and who pay sales taxes
into local merchants. Industrial growth requires additional workers,
and without those workers, no industrial growth is possible.
It is, to say the least, a tricky balance to achieve.
From the mobile homeowner's perspective, all of these problems
perhaps seem distant. It isn't the mobile homeowner who designed
the tax system - why not, for example, abolish property taxes
in the state and replace it with a higher state sales tax that
everyone pays? So even as local leaders attempt to address the
housing and taxation issues, they have to be careful not to blame
mobile homeowners for their choice of inexpensive housing. Who
doesn't want lower housing costs?
On the other hand, mobile homeowners shouldn't be so defensive
about the debate over housing in the county. All too often the
reaction becomes a "rich vs. poor" debate that derails
the key issues. The issue isn't "rich or poor," but
rather achieving a fair balance in paying for local government
Mobile homeowners should also be open to the personal financial
implications of their housing choice. Mobile homes do depreciate
in value, although the land they sit on often goes up in value
with the rest of the county. While inexpensive up front, mobile
home ownership could cost more in the long run if the value of
that property stays low. There's nothing wrong with taking an
objective look at these issues or with local leaders encouraging
housing investments that are good for local governments as well
as for individual homeowners.
This issue won't go away anytime soon. There's sure to be a lot
more discussion on housing before any general consensus is reached
in Jackson County.
In the meantime, debate and discussion of the issue is healthy.
Elliott Brack did us a favor by bringing it up in a public forum,
but it's up to us to find the solutions.
Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Jackson Herald
September 1, 1999
A Hobson's choice
When county commission chairman Jerry Waddell flipped his county
vehicle two weeks ago, then refused an alcohol test, he also
set in motion a rolling controversy.
"What will happen to him now?" goes the typical line
We cannot answer that question. What happens next is largely
dependent on Mr. Waddell and on the outcome of his pending DUI
If the chairman was indeed driving drunk in a county vehicle,
there is no legitimate defense he can offer to the moral implications
of the charge. As the county's top elected official, his actions
must be above reproach, especially when they involve county property.
Were an employee of the county to be in a similar boat, the ax
would swiftly fall.
But as an elected official, Mr. Waddell answers only to the voters.
Having announced earlier that he won't run again next year, the
chairman has already set the date of his own departure.
There is, of course, the prospect of a recall against Mr. Waddell.
But generally speaking, we are opposed to recalls. Recall efforts
should be reserved for the worst of offenses, such as when a
public official has embezzled taxpayer dollars, or committed
some heinous felony. Outside of those situations, we're content
to let the electoral process sort out our leaders.
Mr. Waddell could also resign from the office, thereby forcing
a special election in November to fill his seat. A call for that
action has some appeal and would no doubt satisfy some of the
But with the board of commissioners' seats up for election next
summer, a special election now seems superfluous. Emotions aside,
do we really want to muddy the important upcoming November referendums
with a short-term BOC chairman's race?
We do not, in any way, shape, form or fashion, approve of Mr.
Waddell's being behind the wheel of a car - his own or the county's
- while intoxicated, if indeed that is what the courts should
later prove. At the same time, we don't condone a rush to take
any action that could weaken the county government unless that
action is clearly in the best interest of the county.
There is some sentiment that Mr. Waddell should issue a public
comment on this situation in an effort to either clear his name,
or apologize for using bad judgment. But whatever his public
stance on the matter, if he is found guilty of the DUI charge,
Mr. Waddell should insure that no taxpayer money is spent to
replace his county vehicle, for his legal defense, or for higher
county automotive insurance rates.
For the citizens of Jackson County, this matter is a Hobson's
choice: If he is found guilty, citizens could attempt to oust
Mr. Waddell to satisfy outrage, but in doing that we could also
weaken precipitously our county government. On the other hand,
we could preserve a status quo county government with Mr. Waddell
at the helm, but in the process have to stomach allegations that
we find morally repugnant.
At this point, we aren't ready to make such a choice. We believe
the judicial system should first be allowed to deal with the
DUI allegations. Once that is done, perhaps the proper course
for further action will be clearer.
The Jackson Herald
September 1, 1999
Defends mobile homeowners
I would like to respond to last week's letter, "Manufactured
homeowners can be good neighbors." Carl Bergeron made a
point as far as I'm concerned on behalf of all Jackson County
I have lived in a mobile home all my life. When I got old enough
to move out on my own, I could have gone into debt for 30 or
40 years for a house, but instead I chose to go in debt for 15
years for a home. For some reason, mobile homeowners have always
been looked down on as "poor, low class" people. The
only reason so-called rich people think this way is because most
mobile homeowners are already home from work by the time the
"rich folks" get home or they don't even go to work.
So that makes us sorry trailer trash?
What the "rich folks" are failing to realize is that
the mobile homeowners' monthly payments are probably not even
a fourth of their house payment. So, this makes us homeowners
by the time they are halfway through their mortgages. That doesn't
mean that we are lazy and don't want to work, it means we are
smart and ain't gonna have to work.
I figure the only reason people like Elliott Brack do not want
mobile homes in Jackson County is because they want one themselves
but are afraid of being criticized, so they vote us out.
I like to think of my manufactured home as a mobile home because
if I ever get ready to move, I can take it with me!
Tim Edwards and