With municipalities across America questioning the value of business tax incentives, one Virginia community is completing its sixth study illustrating the true costs and benefits of the prevailing political mantra, “Growth is good.”
Backed by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP), this latest work, “Counting the Costs and Benefits of Growth,” finds that to cover the cost of new roads, schools, water and services with tax revenue every future house sold in Albemarle County must have a $668,761 price tag. To compensate for previous growth, the next two thousand homes in the central Virginia county must average selling for $2.7 million.
The price of a typical residence in and around Charlottesville sold so far in 2012? $301,000.
While other communities might have different experiences, if they do the calculations they will likely discover a similar financial discrepancy between myth and reality. Even before realizing that businesses often fail to create the jobs they projected for tax incentives, growth rarely, and perhaps never, pays for itself.
At the same moment Uncle Sam is $16 trillion in debt and facing the fiscal cliff, better than one third of Virginia’s entire Gross Domestic Product today comes from federal sources. With the Commonwealth endorsing four-percent budget cuts and the governor scaling back his still-optimistic budget figures, there is no one left to pick up slack stemming from any community’s failure to honestly address the cost and benefits of growth.
ASAP’s goal is to calculate an “optimum sustainable population” number that answers a fundamental question: “How populated do we want our area’s 736 square miles to be?” Albemarle County and Charlottesville are certainly not alone in neglecting to include this “ultimate goal” in their comprehensive planning processes.
Prior ASAP studies, paid for through small municipal and foundation grants, indicate that at 144,000 people our region already teeters on the edge of nature’s capacity for human habitation. Albemarle County filters significant amounts of clean water and air through 486 square miles of forest and produces tons of human food on 166 square miles of crop and pasture land. To support the present population of Albemarle County and Charlottesville without importing clean air, water and food from other locations, ASAP’s biocapacity study indicates the region would need almost four times its present physical landmass.
For every Charlottesville, there are population centers like Richmond, Washington, D.C., Norfolk, New York and Chicago that are even less likely to live and grow within their monetary and environmental means.
No doubt, pro-growth proponents will argue with researcher Craig Evans’ analysis but even if the respective economic and ecological models fail to cover every eventuality, the 66 percent discrepancy between tax income and service outgo and the 370 percent difference between landmass and population should cause even the most dedicated developer pause.
Albemarle County is a microcosm of the global dilemma. As the human population climbs to a projected 9.2 billion by 2050, putting the planet under even greater stress, when will people reassess their desires? When do we begin to consider how many of us humans can survive on this good Earth – even if we learn to live with less-consumptive lifestyles?
With the economics so out of balance, when do we begin to reappraise that resounding, “Growth is Good” mantra?