Smart Talk Sept. 1 

Cheap inventory Frank Lambright, a retired Little Rock businessman, has made something of a crusade of inequities in property taxes — particularly the low rates charged owners of agricultural and timber land that is being held for commercial development. The fight over land in the Lake Maumelle watershed has invigorated Lambright further on the issue. Lambright went to the county assessor’s office and looked up the current property taxes assessed on the 760 acres that Central Arkansas Water wants to acquire from Deltic Timber, by condemnation if necessary. CAW has offered $3.8 million (meaning they’ll pay more); Deltic wants to develop expensive homes there and says the land is worth much, much more. Whatever a court may finally decide the land is worth, Lambright’s record search found that the land is taxed as timber property, as the law allows, though it is not being used for timber production. Total taxes paid on the total parcel in the most recent tax year — $293.26. That’s about 38 cents an acre. Lambright figures the average homeowner in Arkansas pays more than $1 per square foot in property taxes each year. Raising the minimum wage The Arkansas Times told you first about the coalition that is forming to push a 2006 ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage, probably from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour. (That’s from $10,712 a year for a 40-hour-a-week worker to $12,792, not exactly high cotton.) One question the group faces is whether to try for an initiated act, which would take 64,456 signatures of registered voters by next July to get on the ballot, or a constitutional amendment, which would take 80,570. An amendment, harder to tamper with by the legislature, would be the only way to automatically index the minimum wage to inflation. Acorn, which is participating in the organizing, hasn’t formally declared support yet. But it was a key player in the Florida effort to pass a constitutional amendment, with index, to lift the wage there. It passed by a landslide. More than 50,000 Arkansas workers would get a pay raise with such an increase. Acorn is already working on minimum wage initiatives in four other states. It also has a plan to put a “living wage” initiative on the ballot in Jefferson County. The upside of the downside Rising energy prices aren’t bad news for everybody. Case in point: The rise in oil and gas prices has made it more profitable for exploration companies to extract gas from the so-called Fayetteville Shale formation in northern Arkansas. There’s been a rush to nail down mineral rights. Sometimes, it might surprise you to know, exploration outfits don’t have landowners’ interests paramount in their hearts. Thus a recent warning from the attorney general’s office. When you sell or lease mineral rights, you can’t keep the mineral rights owner off your property. You can insist that the land be returned in reasonable condition after drilling is ceased or is no longer profitable. And: Read the documents carefully if a landman comes calling to do a little snooping on your back 40.

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