Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Clark Lemings Op-Ed Piece

It’s Monday. Not a fan of Mondays. But tonight is the FLS Fantasy Baseball draft and I am the returning champion. In fact, not only did I win baseball in 2008, I also won the football league, too. I pocketed about $550 from my coworkers here. How’s that for stimulus? Now, the word is they are all coming after me. Even managing editor Phil Jenkins is rumored to be after me.

But let’s get to some real business. Tuesday, the supervisors have a joint meeting with the School Board. Hopefully, School Board Chairman Gil Seaux doesn’t talk about bathtubs again. Then, the next night, the Planning Commission has a public hearing on whether to charge fees to process and research the applications for 3-acre agricultural lots. I will be attending both meetings. In connection to the 3-acre stories, H. Clark Leming, a land-use attorney and founding member of the Stafford Council for Progress, wrote this op-ed piece.

Someone needs to ask Mr. Leming who exactly is going to buy these middle-of-nowhere lots that will save people from economic crisis in a recession? With op-ed pieces, we journalists don’t get to ask additional questions to bring some clarity to the letter he wrote. In his piece, he compares Spotsylvania with Stafford, who he says has turned into an anti-growth, anti-business nightmare.

Leming said:

The truth is that residential units valued above a certain price point do generate enough revenue to cover public services and are self-sufficient. That price point fluctuates with the economy and the tax rate, but if no house actually paid for itself our local governments would be destitute. Moreover, guess who sets the tax rate? It’s the same politicians who claim that housing cannot support itself. It has become far too easy for politicians to claim that housing requires subsidization rather than to simply raise the tax rate to cover necessary services.

Mr. Leming, I am curious as to what that certain price is for a residential unit that pays for schools, fire and rescue, water and sewer and parks and recreation that the family moves in will need, and want? The county recently went through some major sewer overloads because of the growth, and apparently they are getting ready to build another waste water-treatment plant.

Are we talking a million-dollar home? The taxes on the home, personal property and the money that family will spend in the local economy is enough to cover the costs of having that house built? 

The op-ed piece did not get a lot of comments, but maybe you all could debate his piece here. Agree or disagree? 


  • lgross

    a dyed-in-the-wool property rights advocate and
    despite a ton of judicial confirmation of a
    localities right to regulate land-use – including
    zoning and other regulations – he finds the legal
    nooks and crannies that allow him to litigate…
    sometimes successfully.. often times.. to
    encourage the county to look for compromises
    less expensive than long, drawn out and
    expensive legal responses.

    Stafford is using a different path to deal with the
    development of so-called by-right rural land by
    attempting to use administrative rules (which
    much of is not illegal)….

    A county has the right to regulate land-use when
    it can result in development that requires the
    provisioning of publically paid for infrastructure.

    Mr. Lemming belives as many PR folks do that
    infrastructure should be paid for by all txpers

  • wizard1073

    I think this is might be easy, but it needs an accrual-based look at the county’s books. (The budget is merely cash-flow, and does not help understand true cost.)

    Divide the accrual-based county expenses by the number of households. This is the average cost of public utilities and services to each existing household.

    Excluding all other revenues, lots that pay more in taxes than this average amount pay for themselves.

    In reality, there are other tax sources of revenue, so this average is therefore an upper bound for real estate taxes. Any more, and the county has positive net operating result from real estate taxes alone.

    This is, however, a good ballpark figure for how much a new home costs, until you must add in the cost of new facilities. This is where it gets even more complicated.

  • wizard1073

    The new facilities generally benefit existing homes as well as new homes. This can take the form of replacing or extending the life or performance of existing assets (libraries, firehouses, schools, water facilities).

    When that happens, the cost to the county (again, accrual-based) is the loss on the asset that was replaced (if any), or the difference in depreciation (if existing assets are modified).

    The additional costs should be borne proportionally between existing homes and new homes. How? Facilities support an approximate number of households. Existing homes should bear the first of the cost, up to their percentage of the asset’s capacity. All new homes (up to the capacity) should bear the rest as an impact fee. Why? Because you shouldn’t count on growth afterward to pick up someone else’ tab

  • wizard1073

    Additionally, if the county finances construction or modification of the assets, then you must also account for the debt service. The interest is an expense. The principal repayment is an investment. This is likewise borne proportionally between existing and new households.

    And finally, if the new homes are to be built over an extended period of time, then the impact fees to new homes must be adjusted annually for inflation. Accounting-wise, it will look like too much is recovered from the new homes, but in terms of real value it should come out roughly even.

    The same can be said if taxes will be raised to gradually recover the additional cost from existing households. Just don’t double-tax the new homes!

    Maybe the answer is to put each new home or development in a cost-recovery district

  • wizard1073

    A cost recovery district could levy an additional real estate tax, similar to the special service districts now used for commercial developments. The district could exist until the real value of the investments was recovered from the new homes.

    This is easier to implement for new subdivisions than for by-right development, and less costly up-front than impact fees. It puts the county at increased risk since the county does the financing, but with a dedicated revenue stream, the lender’s concern can be mitigated.

    Does this address fairness issues? A senior community would not have school costs factored into its cost impact, so less to recover. A brighter line between new and existing homes would be drawn, and the costs allocated to each.


  • dantelvock

    Good stuff, Wizard. You are making people think.

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