Balancing the books
Farmland protection in Northeast Ohio more than pays its way.
That's the finding of a study undertaken in Lake County's Madison Village and Madison Township by the American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization, and the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
The "cost of community services" study compared the costs of providing services and tax revenues from residential, commercial and industrial, and farm, forest and open space land uses. It found that Madison communities spend an average of $1.54 on public services, including education, police and fire protection and utilities, for every dollar raised by the residential sector. In contrast, farmland, forest areas and open space cost just 34 cents for each dollar generated. Commercial and industrial uses also generate a net benefit.
As suburbia sprawls eastward through Lake County, the rural Madison area being forced to plan for growth. There's a danger that its valuable agricultural lands lands with sandy soils, lake-effect weather for long growing seasons, and abundant water supplies will become covered with housing subdivisions.
"It is our hope that local officials will realize that the preservation of agricultural land can be an important component in providing economic stability to communities," says Charles Grantham, chair of the Lake County SWCD board of supervisors.
The study, which is the first of its kind done in the Midwest, concludes:
While proponents of unplanned growth often present farmland and other undeveloped lands as awaiting a "highest and best use," generally considered residential development, the cost of community services findings show the positive tax benefits of maintaining these lands in their current use. The costs of providing new residents with services such as education, police and fire protection, road maintenance and ultimately public sewer and water, must be evaluated along with the gross contribution to the tax base. By examining these relationships in the present, this study suggests the costs of new residential development would have to be offset further because they are already straining local resources. And while existing commercial and industrial land uses are providing far more in revenues than they demand in services, unplanned growth in these areas may not solve the fiscal imbalance. If new commercial and industrial development does not meet the needs of local residents, and does not reflect local skills, values and resources, it is likely to be followed by increased demand for new housing, traffic congestion, pollution and other factors that typically accompany urbanization.
Copies of the Madison study are available from the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District, 125 East Erie St., Painesville, OH 44077, (216) 350-2730.
"It is our hope that local officials will realize that the preservation of agricultural land can be an important component in providing economic stability to communities."