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Monday, July 23, 2007

The hidden costs of growth in Clark County

The Oregonian reports on the need for more courtroom space in Clark County. The article is mostly about a plan to create a temporary family law annex two blocks or so from the courthouse, which will free up space in the main building. But there are a couple of paragraphs that struck me as revealing about the costs of growth the public doesn't probably see much:
The state has approved the 10th position and agreed to pay half the judge's salary, which will be $140,000 as of Sept. 1. But with nowhere to put another judge, the court has yet to ask the county commissioners for the other half of the salary.


A 2006 state study determined that Superior Court already lags by three positions what is needed for the county's population. That need will grow as the population and number of filings do.
Considering this is just one aspect of government services, that's pretty striking. Growth doesn't pay for itself, at least not how we do it.

Two things about growth management always struck me as absurd. There are traffic "concurrency" laws that allow six years to complete roads that serve new development, which is both "non-concurrent" and completely backwards. I've never understood how six years is considered a reasonable amount of time to fix things, as the inevitable result (at least in Clark County) seems to be that capacity is long gone by the time projects are completed.

Plus local governments are pretty much free to just gut the standards willy-nilly. I think they could set a level of service of zero miles per hour if they wished.

Also, there is no concurrency standard at all for public schools. We apparently value asphalt more than children. It's no big mystery how many public school students can be expected per housing unit. The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction requires school districts to use a well established formula for population projections, meaning city and county planners could use the same numbers. But we don't ensure that someone is going to pay for the classroom space before projects are approved.

It seems kind of nuts, or at least rather deficient given the incredibly detailed planning that occurs these days.

While the anti-tax climate has eased somewhat, thanks in part to years of Republican intransigence and neglect when it comes to infrastructure needs, it's always going to be tough for counties and cities. People "want the bad guys locked up," but sometimes they don't seem so willing to pay for it.

It's the perfect scam for the BIAW and Republicans. Build, build, build, tax, tax, tax, and then claim Democrats are at fault. Developers get rich and the rest of us get the bill. Your free market at work.

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