February/March 2023

“How Dry I Am” could be the state song of Arizona given recent news from the Grand Canyon State.  Permission to build a huge housing development west of Phoenix has been denied over concerns about water availability. That is a big problem that could result in a shift of population.  That story this month, as well as market reality in golf communities, as a group of them in the Hilton Head Island area have raised their homeowner fees significantly.  Why?  The answer may be “Because they can.”  On the bright side, major league baseball games started this week, and many of those athletes will wind up in a ballpark near you.  We list some minor league venues in the Southeast where reasonable ticket prices will leave you with plenty of money left over for hot dogs and beer.

Divining Intervention: Arizonans May Be Headed Your Way

Persistent droughts in Arizona may cause an overflowing river of retiree migration from the Grand Canyon State to California and the Southeast Region.  Just recently, the state of Arizona turned down a plan by the Hughes Corporation to build a huge community west of Phoenix.  Spread across 37,000 acres, the development would have included 100,000 homes, almost twice as many as are built at the vaunted Villages in northern Florida, home to 140,000 retirees.  Imagine the consequences for water supplies in a drought-susceptible state with the addition of 200,000 new residents.

The state of Arizona requires that all sizable housing developments submit a 100-year water plan.  Apparently, the Hughes Corporation could not produce one.

“Surface waters like the Colorado River are drying up,” Adam Minter wrote recently in an article for Bloomberg,” forcing cities and farmers to turn to groundwater. Unfortunately, most groundwater is finite, and once depleted it's difficult or impossible to replenish.”  Here is the link to the Bloomberg article, but it may be behind a paywall: click here 

Arizona, therefore, will face a Hobson’s choice:  Permit the giant developers to buy up farms in the state and use what groundwater is currently available to them to supply residents with drinking water, or strictly limit the number of developments.  In the short term, if the farms disappear, it seems logical, that locally produced food will dry up, and all those new residents and other Arizonans will have to rely on food grown elsewhere.  Farm-to-table restaurants beware. But also, groundwater is not unlimited; giving it away now seems like a parched-earth strategy.

Those retirees who, after researching places to live and deciding that water might be a problem in Arizona, may be basking in the glow of schadenfreude (pleasure derived by someone from another’s misfortune).  But as I wrote recently at TopRetirements.com in response to a comment about California’s net outward migration, “Sorry, but net [inbound] migration to Cali may be just one more Arizona drought away…the Colorado River, which multiple states rely on for drinking water, is increasingly susceptible during the frequent drought conditions. Cali taxes and traffic may start looking tolerable to folks who fear they won’t have water to drink, or [will suffer] a drop in the value of their homes (evidence of this in some AZ areas).”

If you are fortunate to live in a community in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida or any other Southeast Region area that receives enough annual rainfall to fill the local reservoirs, resist the temptation to gloat about your comparatively good choice.  Arizona’s water situation could very well wind up sending its retirees – current and future – in your direction.  And the extra stress that will put on infrastructure challenges, such as roadways and, yes, water supplies, might have you searching the Internet for dowsing rods (which most of us know as “divining” rods). 

Some Communities Capture the Moment and Raise Fees on Homeowners

Golf communities in the Low Country of South Carolina appear to be taking advantage of rising home values in their communities by increasing fees to their homeowners.  The Island Packet newspaper, which serves Hilton Head Island, Beaufort, Bluffton, SC and surrounding areas, reported recently that 10 local communities have raised their homeowner fees more than 14% above the rate of inflation during the last three years.

Haig Point on Daufuskie Island and Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton showed the largest increases, in Haig Point’s case an increase from $12,800 in 2021 to $17,962 this year, or 29%.  Palmetto Bluff, according to the Island Packet, has not announced a POA (Property Owners Association) fee increase for 2023, but its mandatory base club fee increased $1,800 per year, or from almost $4,900 to $6,700 annually over the last three years, an increase of 27%.  The club fee does not include golf.

We can assume these are not isolated examples, as prices in high-quality golf communities have risen pretty much across the board. The owners of homes in these communities have benefited significantly from the pandemic-era increases in home values, at least on paper.  Homeowner associations are looking to build their rainy-day funds, especially in hurricane vulnerable areas, and this now appears to be an opportune time. But as one Palmetto Bluff resident told the Island Packet, “Everybody’s prepared to pay their share. Just that [this] was not viewed as a fair share.”

Look for a potential rise in resident activism if the trend continues.

Winter in New England vs Winter in Florida

I write this on a late February morning with snow falling outside my Connecticut home, more than six inches on the ground and another three on the way.  I have an important board meeting to attend at the Hartford headquarters of a social welfare agency, a normal 25-minute drive away that, if I attempt it today, could take more than an hour.  Thank goodness for Zoom.

Many New Englanders might be tempted, on a winter’s day like this, to yearn for the warmth of Florida or somewhere else well below the Mason-Dixon Line.  I note it is 76 in Savannah right now, heading for 82, and in Richmond, VA, it will reach 70, with sunny skies.  The thermometer outside our window is showing 31.

Somewhat strangely, I am not feeling cabin fever or winter doldrums, despite the fact I haven’t picked up my golf clubs in two months and won’t at least for another month – and then I can count on muddy fairways and soggy greens in the Hartford area.  One reason for my passivity about the weather is what I have been reading lately – about Florida.

Today, for example, at TopRetirements.com, a couple of writers weighed in about growing restiveness among Floridians.  “FEMA has rezoned a lot of communities around here [southwest Florida] to now be in a flood zone,” one wrote, “which means the association has to carry flood insurance which becomes a big expense for all owners in the community.  For this area, [Hurricane] Ian has turned things upside down and there is a long road ahead for full recovery.” 

Another resident in Fort Myers wrote: “Traffic is an issue right now as we are in ‘season’ and we still have a lot of clean-up, repairs going on with Hurricane Ian.  As full-time residents we are hoping for some ‘quiet’ when season ends and clean up completes.” 

He added that, “It’s still a nice place to live and watching the ‘major winter storms’ every night on TV makes us feel very blessed to live here, hurricanes and all.”

His “compensation” was interesting, as if there is some equation between snow and hurricanes.  Snowstorms – the one today is the first of the season in Connecticut and, at under nine inches, hardly a storm – are not nearly as damaging or life-threatening as hurricanes.  Watching on TV the damage from hurricanes on the Gulf Coast…well, I’ll see the writer’s blessings and raise him a few.

Yes, the weather during the winter in Florida is much more accommodating than the snow and cold of New England, but we don’t have a tourist season up here, so our roads are pretty much free of traffic, especially now that more people are working from home, and we don’t have to wait in long lines to pay at the supermarket.  And whereas many Floridians must choose during the high season between waiting in line to get into their favorite restaurant or eating dinner at 4 pm, we Nutmeggers have the freedom to choose our dining options up to the very last minute.

Indeed, Connecticut is a high-tax state, but our flood zones – and mandatory insurance payments – are few and far between.  Our taxes help pay to get the roads cleared of snow and the potholes filled every spring, but I daresay that component of our taxes is a lot lower than flood insurance payments along coastal Florida.  As sea waters rise, it will only get worse. 

Take Me Out to the Crowd

For many of us, cheap entertainment is no farther away than the nearest minor league baseball park. Fortunately, many of them are conveniently located a reasonable drive away from some of the Southeast (and Arizona’s) most popular golf communities.

My first experience with such a ballpark was in Myrtle Beach, home to the Chicago Cubs minor league club, The Pelicans.  This is Single-A baseball, pretty much the entry level league for those trying to make it to the “Big Show,” major league baseball.   But what minor league baseball lacks in status it more than makes up for in enthusiasm.  Minor league team owners know they have to keep their crowds entertained, and they work hard at it.  Go, and you will see what I mean.

The Pelicans play in the Carolina League against 11 other teams from areas rich with golf communities.  In the Southern half of the league alone, teams represent North Augusta, SC; Charleston, SC; Columbia, SC; Fayetteville, NC; Kannapolis, NC; as well as Myrtle Beach.

The following is a selection of popular golf communities within a short drive of these minor league teams’ home fields:

North Augusta GreenJackets:  Woodside Plantation, Aiken; Mount Vintage Plantation, North Augusta; Cedar Creek, Aiken.

Charleston River Dogs:  Rivertowne, Mt. Pleasant; Daniel Island, Daniel Island; Dunes West, Mt. Pleasant; Wild Dunes, Isle of Palms; Coosaw Creek, North Charleston.

Columbia Fireflies:  Woodcreek Farms, Elgin; Cobblestone Park, Blythewood; Timberlake, Chapin; Crickentree, Blythewood; Wildewood, Columbia.

Fayetteville Woodpeckers: Anderson Creek, Spring Lake; King’s Grant, Fayetteville; Gates Four, Fayetteville.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers:  Irish Creek, Kannapolis; Warrior Golf Club, China Grove.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans:  Grande Dunes, Myrtle Beach; Barefoot Reserve, North Myrtle Beach; Tidewater, Little River; Wachesaw Plantation, Murrells Inlet.

False Economies: Some States Make Others Look Good

As if we didn’t need more evidence of why online state-by-state rankings are injurious to anyone’s search for a comfortable place to live, Builder magazine has published the results of a survey by a 14-year-old service called United Regions Van Lines (and misnamed it “United Region Van Lines) that reaches new heights in silliness.  It turns out that some of the most economically advantageous states are subsidized substantially by states with income taxes.

Here are United Regions’ top 10 “most economical” states:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. South Dakota
  3. Tennessee
  4. Alaska
  5. Texas
  6. Wyoming
  7. Florida
  8. Washington
  9. Nevada
  10. North Dakota

Note a few things about the list.  They include most of the nation’s income-tax-free states.  Of course, a state income tax is not all that meaningful to those without a large amount of income. Yet how many wealthy folks who benefit from no state income tax will want to move to Alaska or the Dakotas?  The list includes only three states in the Southern U.S., so bring a winter wardrobe if you choose to live in one of the cheap states.  And, with few exceptions, these are states that receive more dollars per capita from the U.S. government than they send – much more. 

Alaska, ranked #4 on the list above, receives a whopping $18,051 per resident from the Federal government, making it one of the most subsidized states.  My high-tax state of Connecticut receives $1.29 for every dollar we send in taxes to the Federal government, the lowest among the 50 states; New Hampshire, #1 one on the list above, receives $1.69 for every dollar it sends.  On a per capita basis, New Hampshire receives $7,337 per resident from the government; Connecticut receives just $4,152. (reference https://balancingeverything.com/most-federally-dependent-states/)

Speaking for my fellow Connecticut residents, you’re welcome, New Hampshire.  

Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC
Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC

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