The Real Reason Our City Has No Money

In January, Strong Towns released an article about our community. The article titled, The Real Reason Your City Has No Money, is their most read article ever. What does this mean for us?

A few years ago, a few community leaders in Lafayette had the vision to bring Strong Towns’ Chuck Marohn and Urban 3‘s Joe Minicozzi along with a few other team members here to dive into our books, study how we’ve been building our city and tell us how we’re doing. A return on infrastructure investment analysis tool came out of that study. It was the first of its kind. Now other communities are also learning from this innovative idea hatched in Lafayette, LA and are getting smarter about how they are spending public investment by ensuring that it’s also producing a healthy return on that investment.

Locally, TheIND covered the blog post and challenged our community to take a hard and honest look at ourselves.

“The skeleton in our closet is named Sprawl, and he’s jangling his bones all over present-day Lafayette. It’s been nearly two years since a team of urban-planning consultants was hired by Lafayette Consolidated Government in conjunction with PlanLafayette and the Unified Development Code to figure out what the parish’s real infrastructure liability is in relation to our tax base. In May of 2014, after weeks of studying Lafayette Parish’s infrastructure and government, the consultants delivered a sobering report, the Return on Infrastructure Investment.”

We ask, what kind of community do we want to be? In our vision statement, Forward Lafayette values fiscal responsibility. This type of friction is necessary for improvement and we have to confront our challenges to start spending smarter and holding ourselves accountable.

“We value fiscal responsibility through measured investments that generate expected returns and sustainable outcomes.

Fiscal responsibility through measured investments that generate expected returns and sustainable outcomes

Our city operates on finite resources. As citizens we spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what government costs. Forward Lafayette believes that we should instead think about what type of return are we getting from those finite resources.

Decisions we make as a community has fiscal impact as well. While government isn’t a business, we should help our elected officials and governmental entities to consider the public’s return on investment when making decisions on how land is developed. Sprawl-based development patterns may work in the short-term, but in the long-term they stress our local coffers by incurring the liabilities associated with maintaining infrastructure with no corresponding revenue source.

Consider the development patterns established after World War II. If building subdivisions further and further away from the city core was a fiscally responsible sustainable model, then why have the demands for public funding for the associated infrastructure increased so dramatically? Growth does not necessarily pay for itself. Cities across the country, including Lafayette, have discovered that public funds are increasingly insufficient.

Let’s not continue to throw money at a broken system. We support development rules that smarter growth patterns that produce enough revenue per acre to build and sustain the associated public infrastructure.

Well-directed public spending that supports prosperity and long-term fiscal solvency does not have to be large scale and highly speculative. Smaller, incremental investments at the neighborhood level can be low-risk testing ground for new ideas. This will require changing attitudes and expectations. Lafayette has the opportunity to be a leader in the national conversation on this topic. Let’s have a public discussion informed by good data. Let’s test our ideas. Let’s do the math.”

Read the article.

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