The Price of Sprawl: Are We Bankrupting Our Future?

November 1, 2011 38 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

According to Tischler Report economic analysts, cost-of-services studies show Florida taxpayers pay $1.39-2.45 for every tax dollar paid by a new development. Costs at the higher end of this range are for development in rural areas. If new development already wasn't covering its costs directly or indirectly, what will be the ultimate economic impact of the recently approved mobility fee moratorium on Jacksonville? Do we even care to put forth the effort to find out where we truly stand economically?

Understanding Why Growth Doesn’t Pay Its Way

The quoted information below ponders the taxpayer's true cost of development build-out.  It raises some points that Jacksonville should consider finding true answers to before we lose out economically to peer communities that have realized the country's new economic model is quality-of-life oriented as opposed to growth-based.

Land designated as “residential” is legally entitled to roads, schools, drinking water, sewer, police, fire, playgrounds, and all the other infrastructure components that make a community.
The taxes (and possibly impact fees) paid on the new development do not cover the costs for providing it with basic infrastructure and services. The difference is paid by the rest of the community. Because new development does not pay its way, most local governments in Florida are financially upside down.
Existing neighborhoods subsidize new residential development. Scarce revenue is diverted to the endless hole of servicing new development instead of maintaining existing neighborhoods. The revenue deficit can never be satisfied, and all the while roads become ever more congested, schools crowded, library hours cut, safety services diminished. Your quality of life declines.

So when politicians consider whether to approve another 100, 500 or 1000 houses, how much will it cost you? Is the developer paying impact fees? Impact fees rarely cover the costs of services and infrastructure for new development. If a developer donates land for a new school, know that it does not cover the cost of school construction or the costs of personnel, books, computers and other equipment. These costs need to be covered before saying YES to more development.
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About The Price Of Sprawl

Quote is doing something that has never been done before — bringing the hidden costs of over-development out of the closet and into the sunshine for all to see.

How best should this information be used to end taxpayer subsidies of new development? How do we get elected officials to stop pretending that more new development just pumps up the taxbase, when in fact it usually costs more than it brings in? The bitter truth is that taxpayers who don’t get the benefits, get the bill.

Tapestry Park is an example of good development because it is designed with a mix of complementing uses on a relatively compact site, which reduces the strain of automobile trips that a development of similar size would typically place on public infrastructure.

Baymeadows Junction is an example of good development because the project was a reuse of an abandoned industrial site.  With a landscape littered with underutilized strip malls, redevelopment of sites where the public has already invested in infrastructure should become a higher priority for Jacksonville.

The intersection of Beach and Hodges Boulevards is an example of bad development site planning.  Various complementing uses are clustered in an autocentric manner that leads to increased traffic congestion and gridlock on public infrastructure.  In addition, the autocentric site planning creates a hostile environment for the surrounding residential area, which happens to be fairly compact for Jacksonville standards.

Something To Think About

Plagued with budget issues resulting in delayed transportation improvements, under-funded schools, improperly maintained parks, and reduced library hours, it seems the rapid, low-density growth in Jacksonville over the last thirty years hasn't resulted in higher quality of life for taxpayers.  In fact, it appears that it has become a significant financial burden.  Now with pension costs spiraling out of control, it's time for Jacksonville as a community to consider that all growth may not be good, self-sustaining growth.  If this is the case, perhaps the old way of economically doing things in Jacksonville is an outdated model in need of change?

Article by Ennis Davis.