Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Fickle Face of Sprawl

The impact of growth on a small community like Durango is significant. We may be in a recession, but development impacts on infrastructure regardless. If there is money to build, there must be money to mitigate impact, because it's fundamentally unfair to make the many pay for the profits of the few.

Costs in increased traffic, pollution, infrastructure damage, cultural heritage loss, wildlife displacement, tourism decline, wetlands loss, quality of life degradation and increased housing costs effects everyone. More growth does not make housing and land prices go down. It makes them go up. Durango was more affordable 15 years ago, before the boom. Boomtowns are expensive places to live precisely because of unregulated development.

For example, during the boom years, 2000-2006, La Plata Couty's average yearly wage grew $7,000, from $27,223 to $34,029. I'd like to know what the demographic of that is, (the spread amongst the professions, but that data isn't available. We could reasonably infer, however, from the increases in employment by profession, that most of that income growth took place in construction and realty.)

La Plata also added around 5,000 jobs from 2000-2006. The county's population grew by around 5,000 people, which means that the area attracted as many new people as it could employ, hardly a ringing endorsement for the benefits of growth for those already here, and most likely the reason unemployment started at 3% in 2000 and ended at 3% in 2007. We should expect a drop in the percentage if rampant development were so good for our economy.


Total county expenditures in 2000 equalled $50,074.546, $9.6 million of which was capital spending, or spending including infrastructure. Total county expenditures in 2006 equalled $70.3 million, $16 million of which was capital spending. Spending on our infrastructure almost doubled during the boom. Growth is expensive, and as I've documented, its impact in jobs/wealth is minimal, except for the few who are directly involved in building and selling. Granted, some of the money gets spread back into the community, but it's not a fount of public manna as so many of these folks proclaim.

la plata county budgets

Commissioner Riddle has made some very poor decisions recently, but this one is particularly bad. She made a statement proceeding her decision to demand a 10% cap on impact fees without negotiating. I've responded to the key parts of her statement below:

I am proposing that we pass a flat impact fee of 10% with no ratcheting effect of that percentage.

Not only is this too low, but without the ability to adjust it upwards or downwards, the country effectively gives away a tool to slow or quicken growth. It's akin to the Fed saying, "we're going to permanently set interest rates at 10% and not worry about the economy." Not only do we forfeit monies that the county needs for maintenance, we revert back to a case by case negotiation that is inequitable and unpredictable.

Because of the inability of Commissioners Riddle and Hotter to understand "compromise" means a counteroffer, that is exactly what happened. More inequality, more expense.

A reasonable exchange could hvae gone like this: White: 60%. Riddle: 10% White: 40% (what he next offered) Riddle: 30% White: 38% Riddle: 32% White: 35% Riddle: Deal.

35% impact fees is not unreasonable, and would be pretty close to the statewide average. Instead, we have nothing. Commissioner Hotters complete refusal to allow any fee is particularly egregious, and an irresponsible position for an elected leader to take.

On the issue of growth paying for itself, I am not certain that I whole-heartedly agree with this premise... I have come to believe the cost of growth should be paid for by all of the residents of the county. Transportation and roads are used by each and every individual, whether they carry goods to market, ride a school bus or bicycle to work. It is important infrastructure that needs to be paid for by everyone.

This is a huge change for Commissioner Riddle, whom I endorsed under the slogan: Grow Smart, and who just in April stated, “Right now, 100 percent of the impacts are paid by the community at-large,"


Commissioner Riddle would never have been elected with the slogan, "Residents Should Pay for Growth," because not everybody benefits from growth. Those that benefit directly are the developers, landowners and builders. Jobs may or may not result. There is no guarantee a business park will be filled, but its impact on water, wildlife, and infrastructure is a certainty.

The reality is that we as government cannot continue to have new growth and provide the infrastructure needed as well as all of the other services that are being utilized at unprecedented levels with our stymied economy and with oil and gas on the decline.

Precisely why growth should pay it's own way. This is classic privatization of profits and nationalization of loss.

The 10% impact fee as well as the idea of increasing the mill levy came as a direct compromise proposed by one of those entrepreneurs, who has built a business with locally grown employees who love and want to continue to live in our community. That same conversation shed some light on an area that I had been unaware ofin the cost required via existing taxes and fees already placed on businesses that shoulder the weight of building our economy.

As I've shown, growth does not "shoulder the weight of building our economy." At best, it is neutral, and at worst, it costs us real dollars. The damage to our health and the environment is less calculable, but no less real. Commissioner Riddle's decisions are not in the interest of country residents, and certainly not the platform of "smart growth" she was elected on.

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