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How Will Rural America Pay for its Future?
44% of Clinton is untaxable.


It is budget time in rural America. This means for many rural towns they dance with economic disaster in making a budget balance.

At the edge of civilization, in a place that is 10 miles from the Upper Delta region of the Mississippi River, where the federal government last year designated as Frontier Status, a small town lives. It is called Clinton, Kentucky.

Clinton is a rural town on the edge. It is one mile square. Each year fewer people live in the town. Businesses are leaving. Grass is growing on more empty lots.

Clinton, the rural county seat of Hickman County, Kentucky, is home to 1,388 souls. This means that 427 postal addresses must somehow make the city budget work. A significant minority of those addresses are nonexistent for tax purposes.

The question is “How do you make a budget balance when 44 % of your Central Business District is untouchable?”

Using old geography concepts, a Central Business District (CBD) are those city blocks that touch the Court House Square. There are eight in Clinton’s downtown. This is the core of the county’s commerce and culture.

Within the Clinton CBD, there are 72 lots. Nontaxable lots now belong to government (7) non-profits (4) church (2). Add to those numbers vacant lots (18) and you have 44 % of the lots in bad or no tax status.

From the year 2004, within the Clinton CBD some 14 brick and mortar two story buildings have collapsed, burned, or been taken down by high winds and heavy rainstorms.

These figures average one major brick building a year being destroyed. The city must confront and deal with these 21st Century problems. Heat storms, heavy rains, tornadoes, loss of population and jobs confound any efforts to secure and save a dying downtown.

Where will small town America, cities like Clinton, find or generate new revenue sources?

We must meet each challenge of the 21st Century with new and bold 21st Century thinking.

Every small town in America has new taxable sources of revenue within their boundaries. But, most small towns only see what has been life for the past 50 to 100 years. It is hard for conservative mid-America go beyond their comfort box.

Storm drainage, sewer line problems, farm air pollution, senior population, health and willingness issues are just a few of the everyday reality of modern rural America. Paying for these forces of nature and geography will force small town America to step up to the challenges. If not, then those small rural towns of America will become fond memories and ghost towns of yet another era in America’s history.

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