Balance is key to community |

Balance is key to community

by Michael Hayes

I would like to respond to the “Guest Opinion” by Mr. Campbell of the Douglas County Business Council (R-C Sept. 11). First, I’ll say that the key to a beautiful, well-rounded community is balance. We do need more information regarding the acquisition of agricultural open space. We need information from the public!

First, I would like to apologize to the hard-working agribusiness community for being painted as some kind of subsidy-seeking element of the community. If your families hadn’t done such a fine job of maintaining the land in this Valley and resisting development pressures, we would look like Carson, Reno or any of a thousand other cities that caved in to development pressures and lost their balance. Thank you. Second, I’m curious to know exactly who has asked the taxpayers to subsidize agribusiness? I know it wasn’t the agribusiness community. Ironically, agribusiness has done such a superlative job that you have attracted developers and businesses to the county in record numbers.

Taxpayers currently subsidize residential development since developers are unwilling to voluntarily pay a one-time, fair share, impact fee for basic infrastructure. I know of no county program that uses local tax dollars to subsidize agribusiness, but I know we all subsidize residential construction. I wish that agriculture and small businesses got the same kind of subsidies as residential construction enjoys, but they don’t! Developers recently stopped paying for fire protection and cut way back on what they contribute to schools. If you’re concerned about subsidizing something, look closely at residential development.

Consider the following information from The American Farmland Trust. IT costs government $1.15-$1.25 to provide basic services for every dollar generated by residential construction. Residential construction does not pay for itself; we, the taxpayers, subsidize it to the tune of a 115-125 percent loss on every tax dollar we invest. Agriculture land on the other hand costs the government 25-35 cents for every dollar it generates. Agribusiness pays its own way to the tune of 65-75 percent of its cost. Given these numbers, which is the better investment of your tax dollar? Also noteworthy is the fact that these numbers do not include the cost of infrastructure and its perpetual operating and maintenance costs that residential construction creates. Residential construction also places demands on emergency services, natural resources, loads up schools, requires big government and bureaucracy that just keeps getting bigger and bigger, but Ag land doesn’t!

Ag land also provides us with passive capital improvements like flood control, drainage, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat and green open space. We just successfully drained a 100-year event with the system designed by Mother Nature and maintained by the agriculture community. If government were to undertake a project of this scope, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and there would be no guarantees that it would work. We have a working system in place and it just passed the ultimate acid test. Which one would you rather invest your tax dollars in?

Green open space has a multitude of benefits to the taxpayers and, as far as I know, no one has asked us for a penny to acquire it. I personally would gladly spend my tax money for the acquisition of green open space because I understand the aesthetic, practical and fiscal benefits that it offers our county. I would like the public to define open space and what it means to you, and I’d also like to hear about the benefits and detriments regarding open space. I think this issue needs to be taken up by the community now, because there is a limited window of opportunity to acquire this key land. Once we miss the window, we may as well pave the place. Look at Carson and Reno from an elevated position. Then drive about halfway up Kingsbury Grade and look at the Carson Valley and decide which view you would fight or pay for. It sounds drastic, but since we do, in fact, already subsidize residential development, would you consider subsidizing agriculture? Why? Why not? I am very curious about the public’s opinion. We really need the public input, because I know we will get input from special interest groups. I’d like to know what the majority of the taxpaying public thinks.

I urge the public to find out about flooding, drainage, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, natural resources and the cost for the county to provide services and infrastructure to residential, commercial and agricultural property and see which one is the best investment of your tax money. Which do you want to subsidize? Let your elected representative know where your priorities are. I firmly believe that we have to act now to ensure that we have the option and opportunity to benefit fully from the agricultural land before we lose it to development. We have options today. In as little as two years, we won’t have these options – the green open space will be gone! This is your community and we have a Board of County Commissioners who will enact your wishes if you make them known.

I could be wrong, but when we started work on the $2.7 million Master Plan about 10 years ago, the driving theme was to preserve irrigated agricultural land because of its benefits to the county. Is this still the will of the majority of the people? Mr. Campbell raises an excellent issue and we need your input!

– Michael Hayes is a Gardnerville resident and the chairman of the Douglas County Planning Commission.