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DR. WENDY ANDERSON

Death and taxes: The two things you can count on, right?

Like all property owners, I received my property-tax notice last week. It got me thinking about that question economists love to ask: What are people willing to pay for a thing or a service or an experience?

What are we willing to pay for access to state parks? Six dollars per car? Or, $120 for a family for a year?

What are we willing to pay to access city parks? Oh, those are free. No. Not free. Property owners pay for those in the city’s portion of our property taxes. What is our city’s budget for parks operations and maintenance? How much is in our city’s coffers for purchasing land for new parks?

Let’s say an opportunity arose to keep a significant chunk of green space within our city limits very close to Downtown (maybe 167 acres) from being converted to 680 residential units that would add to traffic congestion and school overcrowding, plus put further strain on our water resources and utilities infrastructure. Addressing those strains costs all of us in our ever-increasing taxes.

What would you be willing to pay to keep that green space green? How much extra to retain the cooling and air-purifying benefits of those trees? To provide a site for walking and biking trails, or disc golf, or a nine-hole/par-3 golf course?

What would you be willing to pay to maintain the quality of life our residents value rather than giving away the profits of growth to out-of-town developers? Would you be willing to pay $25 a year (seven cents a day) more in taxes if we had a bond referendum to buy that land?

Would you make a voluntary donation to a private land trust to raise the funds to purchase that parcel or other special properties, if we got the opportunity?

What would developers be willing to pay for the opportunity to do business in our communities? I did some back-of-napkin calculations. A quick Google search reveals that developers make a net profit of 25 to 30 percent on each home sold. So, imagine that a developer picks up 167 acres for $5.5 million and then spends another net $4 million to “clean up” any contamination on the site — and I say “net” here, because the state (that’s our tax dollars, too) will cover $2 million of the cleanup cost.

If a developer made 25 percent on the sale of each unit at an average sale price of $250,000 (assuming some of these units will be “affordable”), and put 680 units on the site, what is the net profit? Scribble on napkin: $42.5 million.

With such a generous risk margin for the developers, then, why doesn’t the City of DeLand require developers to pay a fee for each rooftop or for each acre cleared into a Green Space Preservation Fund to protect other green spaces and the valuable services those spaces provide?

We could buy those properties ourselves, either with bonds or a private land trust, but why not require those who reap the biggest profits from development to invest a fair share back into our communities to protect the green infrastructure that makes our communities a better place to live? What are they willing to pay?

And, do we realize how much what we have to give is worth?

— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Dr. Anderson,

    It’s always good to ask questions, especially tough ones like you have here. Once the green space is gone, a community doesn’t get it back. I hate seeing resources disappear for the sake of short term revenue. Parks, par 3s and other outdoor offerings give community members one more reason to get outside, exercise and improve their physical/mental health. Wishing your community all the best as they plan for the long term.

  2. Dr. Anderson,

    Such good questions! The residents of DeLand should ask themselves these and other questions. Do they look forward to the expense of new school construction should the current schools become overcrowded? Do they look forward to the inconvenience of more traffic congestion with the eventual cost of construction of new or wider roads? Are they obligated to grant rights of development to out-of-town developers/entrepenuers for their profit? Would such a development improve their quality of life? Tough stuff to ponder.

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