A new study funded by the Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population and supported in part by Renewable Energy Consulting Services, compares the revenue Charlottesville and Albemarle residents create through property taxes with the cost of services the local governments provide to those residents. Consistent with other studies, it finds a significant deficit in both the city and the county.
The research, conducted by Mr. Craig Evans, is titled "Counting the Costs and Benefits of Growth: A Fiscal Impact Analysis of Growth in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia".
The study’s executive summary points out that, “Future population increases will generate even less favorable ratios of revenues to public service costs than those reported in this study.”
While the results might shock someone like Rick Santorum, who believes perpetual growth is somehow possible, they nonetheless serve to corroborate work done by Eban Fodor earlier in 2012 – namely, that the widely held notion that growth "pays for itself" is one of the most incorrect notions circulating in the popular consciousness.
In order below, is a video of news coverage of the report; an excerpt of the executive summary and various links to other parts of the report; and, finally, a news article related to the report.
Counting the Costs and Benefits of Growth
Study Report - Counting the Costs and Benefits of Growth - Craig Evans - December 2012.pdf
This study was undertaken to help citizens and policymakers answer an important question: can the encouragement of growth – even in a carefully targeted form – help local governments pay for essential public services, without also undermining the quality of life in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville?
It is widely assumed that communities have little choice in this matter, that they must expand their populations and their number of commercial enterprises in order to remain prosperous. The study approaches this question by considering estimates of all readily measurable fiscal benefits and costs. It is designed to offer a detailed analysis of the fiscal costs and benefits connected to:
The study focuses on the revenues that are determined and controlled by local government (including the state revenues that they determine or control) and the costs that are incurred by these local governments through the public services they provide. These revenues, excluding state and federal aid, are the revenue targets of proposals that encourage growth. For purposes of comparison, the study also contains a control analysis that includes revenues from all sources.
The study produced six significant findings:
1. Few land uses pay their way: they do not generate sufficient government revenues to pay for the public services they require. This is because new area residents require services that increase local government costs at a level greater than the additional local revenue they contribute. It also is because the deficits created by this growth cannot be offset by other more fiscally advantageous but far less predominant land uses.
2. Three types of land use appear to pay their way – agricultural, commercial, and industrial uses (see Figure 1, below) – but these categories cannot be expanded in a way that conveys any marked fiscal advantage. There are two reasons for this:
3. The cost-benefit ratios generated by this study do not include two prominent sources of cost, which will increase significantly with rising population, and for which it is difficult to account:
4. Attempts to offset the fiscal gaps caused by commercial and population growth by recruiting new residents of significant wealth and income, will not work. This study calculated the "break-even" price of a new home-the price at which a home will generate enough local revenue to offset the additional public service costs that will be incurred as a result of that new household. The break-even price of a home in Albemarle County is $668,761. This is the average price at which all future homes must be sold to avoid increasing current deficits.
The "compensating" price, on the other hand, determines the number of homes that must be sold at a specific price to generate sufficient local revenues to pay for the services currently demanded by all land uses, citizens, and commercial enterprises. This study calculated that the next 2,000 homes sold in Albemarle County must be priced at an average of $2.7 million to make up for current deficits. This represents the additional property taxes necessary to close the current annual shortfall between local revenues and local costs.
These two findings show how difficult it will be for Albemarle County to ever recruit enough wealthy new residents, with the capacity to purchase enough homes at these prices, to allow the county to build its way out of its growth-induced financial corner.
5. The county's proffer program, as implemented, is inadequate as a means of filling the gap between the true costs of new development and its local revenue generating potential. Current proffers are a legally defensible set of calculations that help offset the costs of new development. This study shows that the proffers do not count all the costs of new development, understate others and overstate anticipated revenues.
6. Future population increases will generate even less favorable ratios of revenues to public service costs than those reported in this study. This will happen because increased population density eventually necessitates increasingly complex public service structures, which carry rising per capita costs. This study concludes that even without accounting for this complexity, and due only to the rising share of residential public service costs in the overall land use mix, the fiscal deficits connected to local revenues and local costs only will worsen with additional population growth. At a hypothetical population of 200,000, for example, the prevailing 2008-2009 ratio of public service costs to revenues generated for all land uses in Albemarle County would rise by approximately 16 percent, from a cost of $1.24 per revenue dollar to a cost of $1.45.
This study concludes that population growth pays for its fiscal costs only in the most carefully controlled and unrealistically isolated scenarios.
These findings are consistent with every previous analysis that has attempted to quantify the fiscal costs and benefits of particular land uses in this region and other Virginia localities.
Roland Van Liew