iA in the Legislature from 1966 to 1981. “Not everybody knows it, but Henderson County has some of the best hunting and fishing in Texas,” Head said. “Most of the people here like to hunt and fish, and like the idea of protecting wildlife. But any time you give one group a tax break, somebody else is going to pay for what’s been lost. People who work for hourly wages are the ones who end up paying….And that’s the Sheriff of Nottingham’s game out there, not the public’s.” A tax increase, Henderson County Judge Tommy Smith has been warning since June, is unavoidable because “all revenues are down.” The reduced rate on ad valorem taxation is not nearly as old as Koon Kreek Klub. It was passed into law in 1977, in a bill carried by Fort Worth Democratic Representative Gib Lewis before he was elected to serve as speaker of the House. According to the current Property Tax Code, a “recreational, park or scenic land-use” designa tion is available to anyone who I owns five or more acres of land used for “sporting activities, for park, or scenic sites, or for the conservation and preservation of scenic areas.” The property owner must sign a deed restriction dedicating the property to such use for at least ten years, and the land cannot be used to produce “distributable profits.” In an interview with Austin AmericanStatesman reporters last November, Lewis, now a lobbyist, lapsed into the oddly parsed logic common in the House over which he presided for ten years. “It enhances the tax rolls by driving up the value on land around it, particularly on golf courses,” he said. Whether hunting clubs were what he had in mind when he carried the bill, Lewiswho must have had a staff taxidermist to maintain his own Capitol officewould not say, explaining that the decision is made by the local tax appraiser. “That guy has got the final call,” Lewis told the American-Statesman. Bill Jackson is the chief tax appraiser in Henderson County, and the two hunting clubs, Rainbo %and Koon Kreek, have attracted the attention of the media and obviously complicated his life. “The TV reporters were here this morning, so I have the figures,” Jackson said as he fished an adding machine tape out of a waste basket. Jackson also suggested that golf course owners might have been the force behind the 1977 legislation, explaining that historic golf courses in urban areas could not stay in business if they were taxed using adjacent residential and commercial real estate to establish values. If the Koon Kreek Property were taxed at market value, it would provide five hundred fifty dollars of tax base per acre. At the scenic and recreational tax rate, it is taxed at two hundred seventeen dollars per acre. The loss of three hundred thirty three dollars per acre on seven thousand five hundred acres of property costs the county and two school districts with taxable property in Koon Kreek $2,479,500 in tax base. Rainbo Club, where the Governor owns a vacation home, is taxed at exactly the same per-acre rate on its twelve hundred acres. It is not that simple, Jackson says. “We don’t have any comparables,” to use to appraise the property, he said, explaining that nowhere in the countyex SAM HURT cept Rainbo Club’s one thousand two hundred acresis there similar property on which to base an appraisal. Where to find, in other words, one hundred houses spread across seven ti” thousand five hundred acres and around five lakes? And because the land, which is owned collectively, is never sold, the only sales on which to base values are sales of the houseswhich are rare. “It ranks a little higher than ag, a little lower than timber,” Jackson said of Koon Kreek’s property. “And, it was just reappraised.” Jackson also just reclassified seventy-five acres of Koon Kreek as residential backyards and taxed it at eight hundred twenty-five dollars per acre. If property owners at Koon Kreek didn’t have scenic and recreational tax rates, Jackson said, the property would have agri cultural exemptions, which also lower the tax rate. “If you didn’t have the clubs,” Jackson said, “that land would be split up among ranchers and taxed at ag value.” He did not mention why the Rainbo Club had to apply for the scenic and recreational exemption: its members were informed that they no longer qualified for an agricultural exemption, after a tree-farming scheme apparently became too much of a stretch for Jackson’s predecessor. And to suggest that the property vx would be “split up among ranchers” implies that if their 1977 tax break were eliminated, the millionaire bass fishermen who have owned the property since 1902 would pack up and go home to Highland Park. As Jackson sees it, there is “thirty-nine thousand dollars [in revenue, not tax base] lost due to the special-use appraisal. The structures [houses and club buildings] create seventy-five thousand dollars in tax revenue so we are thirty-five thousand to the good, if you look at it that way.” Go figure. WHAT ARE THE TAXPAYERS of Henderson County underwriting? No one from Koon Kreek is talking, but the Khronicle provides some insight. Club members are good stewards of the land. They employ a full-time wildlife biologist. There is no water skiing, no jet skis and an airstrip was long ago rejected. Many club members keep boats on several lakes, which “avoids the necessity of owning trailers and hitches and having to tow and then launch your boat on the different bodies of water.” Peggy Maxon Lee wrote that her mother was annoyed with arrangements her late husband had made for sharing boats and boathouses. “Then one day she and I went to the Lone Star Boat Company in Plano and she bought five metal boats and five motors plus a large barge which caught her eye. Her comment was ‘If I had known that buying boats could be this much fun, I wouldn’t have been buying clothes all these years!’ Individual cabins are described as rustic and fairly simple, and there’s even an out door chapel for Sunday religious services. But nobody’s singing “let my people go.” This is Highland and University Park at prayer and the Old Testament theology of deliverance has long since given itself over to the Service Economy imperative of de livery. Race relations are clearly defined. Joe Tullos, a retired Koon Kreek game cleaner, described club members as “rich people from Dallas.” Asked if all of them are white, he said yes. \(So the Governor concluded of his Henderson County club colleagues, in a deposition taken in a Rainbo Club unlawful termination law Kreek, Tullos said, were employees, like the game cleaner he worked with. The Koon Kreek Khronicle includes its own observations on race. “Many of us at Koon Kreek remember his remarkable demons trations of marksman ship where he would shoot a raw potato impaled on a pencil from the i / lips of his black assistant, Gus Sowell,” one club member wrote of Jess Sweeten, a former Henderson County Sheriff who was a frequent guest at the club until his death in the early eighties. “How the hunters of Koon Kreek envied that sure eye and steady aim.” “As we drove up to the Club House, there ba1.7 40/04/Ar Air.r rar -//fir ” -….0Ar -,, 6 FEBRUARY 9, 1996
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