The more houses built, the more cost to the county, research shows

By Heather Michon

As part of their ongoing debates over residential growth and business development in Fluvanna County, the Board of Supervisors asked county staff to look into ways to measure the fiscal impacts of the different types of development on the county services.

At its meeting last Wednesday night (Nov. 16), County Administrator Eric Dahl provided some answers to those questions.

Through research, Dahl said his staff had found that many localities use a Cost of Community Services (COCS) study. 

This model, developed by the nonprofit American Farmland Trust back in the 1980s, creates revenue-to-expenditure ratios showing the fiscal impact of each type of land use on the community. To conduct the study, researchers identify the categories of land use in the study area and define how much government expenditure went into each category.  

While there has been no COCS study in Fluvanna County, Dahl said that averaging out studies carried out across Virginia over the last 25 years shows that for each $1 in revenue, a locality expends $0.33 for business/industrial land use, $0.38 for agricultural land, and $1.18 for residential land.

Similar reports done by organizations like the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service showed roughly the same results.

“The conclusion was the same from these studies, that they show that residential has a greater cost than the revenue it brings in,” said Dahl.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) said he appreciated the clarity of the COCS methodology, but questioned, “at the end of the day, what does this really tell you?”

In his opinion, it was just one data point in a larger conversation about identifying the services the community most needs, “and then apply your best judgment based on that information.”

For Cunningham Supervisor Chris Fairchild, the data shows something he had long believed: “generally speaking, when we build houses, rooftops, it’s a net negative. It creates more burden.”

He also quoted from parts of one report that COCS studies can “help local lenders discard the notion that natural resources must be converted to ensure fiscal stability” and also “dispel the myth that residential development leads to lower taxes.”

Dahl said a COCS study could be done by an independent contractor or through a “very deep dive” by county staff. There has also been some discussion of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) organizing a regional study. 

Supervisors ended the discussion without any further action.

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