The Cost of Community Services for Three Dane County Towns: Dunn, Perry and Westport

Over the past decade, the population of Dane County has grown by about 13 percent, adding approximately 46,000 new residents and making it the 9th fastest growing county in the state. In 1998, more than 4,000 housing units were built in the county, the largest number of units built since 1993. Population is projected to continue growing by a total of about 33 percent between 1990 and 2020. Population, housing and employment growth has created pressure for development and its necessary infrastructure investments. As growth has intensified across the county, citizens and policy makers have become increasingly aware of the consequences associated with growth and development.

These concerns have prompted a number of policy initiatives on the part of local governments in Dane County. Last year, the County embarked on a planning process which culminated in Design Dane, a comprehensive set of actions meant to improve the way the county grows in the future. The Town of Dunn recently became the first municipality in the state to pass a local levy to provide funding for purchasing the development rights of property in the Town. The Village of Oregon instituted a growth moratorium out of a need to step back and evaluate how to grow responsibly in the future. In 1995, the Town of Oregon adopted strict zoning ordinances that make it difficult for farmers to divide and sell their lots for housing development. The Town of Bristol has made an effort to keep development concentrated in one area so as to preserve productive farmland in other areas. Recently, the town board of Blooming Grove voted to put a moratorium on all land divisions in the town until they have developed and approved a land use plan. These initiatives are illustrative of local land use activities occurring throughout the county.

Of particular concern to both citizens and policy makers in thinking about growth and development is the “bottom line”, or more specifically, the impacts on community costs, revenues, tax base and tax rates. A number of studies have emerged that attempt to shed some light on how different types of land use affect a community’s fiscal position. These studies, known as Cost of Community Services (COCS) studies, are typically undertaken to examine the impacts of open space and farmland versus other types of land uses on a community’s fiscal balance sheet. They provide a community with a set of ratios that compare total revenue generated by each land use to total costs related to the land use.

The following report provides such an analysis of three communities in Dane County and quantifies the net fiscal impact of different types of land uses in the communities. An understanding of the fiscal costs and revenues generated by different types of land is important as policy makers grapple with issues of sprawl and increasing rates of farmland conversion. The costs of community services method detailed below allows a community to assess their fiscal position at one point in time in terms of the demands placed on the locality by different land use categories. This procedure has been replicated, with some modification, for three towns in Dane County--Dunn, Perry and Westport.

The towns were selected to represent different types of communities. The Town of Dunn, though close to the urban fringe, has a history of a strong commitment to preserve farmland. The Town of Westport is experiencing strong development pressure, as it lies close to the City of Madison and to the growing Village of Waunakee. Finally, the Town of Perry is a rural and agricultural town experiencing only scattered development pressure at this point in time.

Downloadable Documents: 
Author: 
Mary Edwards, Douglas Jackson-Smith, Steve Ventura, Jill Bukovac
Publisher: 
Wisconsin Land Use Research Program, University of Wisconsin Madison
Page Numbers: 
31
Publication Date: 
August 1, 1999
Literature Category: 
Reports and Studies