There's an interesting discussion taking place in Columbia, South Carolina concerning redevelopment efforts on the city's economically beleaguered north-side. Members of that city's council have proposed earmarking a portion of growing tax revenues from established business areas, where property values are projected to increase, for revitalization projects in adjoining poor neighborhoods and commercial districts.
The plan has drawn criticism because of its Robin Hood-like approach to development, but it's the strategic considerations, rather than the ideological debate over wealth redistribution, that's notable in the process.
Those advocating the plan have cloaked none of their arguments in the environmental or aesthetic terminology common to many brownfield vs. greenfield debates. Rather, it's the fiscal rationale of concentrating development in already-serviced areas that's being given the most weight.
The idea is to target stagnate properties not currently on the city's tax rolls and to develop them into revenue producing businesses. The strategy is charmingly simple in its immediate objective, but it has the greater indirect consequence of limiting infrastructure expenditures related to new development in the present while helping to contain maintenance and service costs over the long-term.
This logic is often alluded to in Hamilton's public discussions of land use and urban sprawl, though it's unclear that it actually informs planning approval processes in a meaningful way.
Statements from the Winona Wal-Mart deliberations showed that the city is anxious to correct for an unhealthy business-residential balance in its tax base, but the benefits of increased revenue from new development need to be weighed against the future cost-burden of a more widely dispersed service area.
As many posters to this website have noted, regardless of the amount of development fees charged, the cost of maintaining and servicing new growth areas eventually falls to taxpayers across the city, paid for with funds from the general operating budget.
Practitioners of military logistics understand the significance of spatial dimensions to the management of their supply lines. Increasing the size of an operating area correlates positively with the cost of 'servicing' that area. Personnel of UMA Engineering also understand this concept as it relates to the management of municipal assets.
In 2006, the firm was commissioned by the City of Hamilton to produce a report [PDF link] on the state of the city's infrastructure, in which it noted:
Every time a new survey or subdivision is added to the City, this increases the overall inventory of infrastructure that the City must operate, maintain, and ultimately replace. This additional infrastructure, although initially free, becomes a significant liability for the City.
Pressure for the expansion of urban boundaries continues to exist. Hamilton taxpayers should give thought to the relationship between land use and municipal expenditures, and consider the value of the operating model that they're compelled to invest in.
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