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Sierra Club: Urban sprawl thrives at taxpayer expense


April 13, 2000
Web posted at: 6:34 p.m. EDT (2234 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Taxpayers are unwittingly helping urban sprawl, since most public funding is used for systems that encourage sprawl instead of fixing it, according to the Sierra Club.

The club released a report Thursday, claiming the areas with the worst sprawl do not generate enough tax revenue to pay for the services they consume.

This causes taxpayers in non-sprawl areas to subsidize areas including utilities and emergency services, the report said.


The report talks about five areas of urban sprawl:

  • Roads: As communities spread out, more roads are built, and people are forced to commute longer and longer. Los Angeles, "the birthplace of sprawl," has traffic delays that cost residents $12 billion a year, it said. The federal government encourages this trend by providing four times more money for building highways than for public transportation, the report said.

  • Schools: Sprawl forces tax money to be spent on building costly new school buildings on the outskirts and close down schools "in good condition" in central locations. Public money goes for more buildings, and commuting costs increase as schools are built further from cities and from public transportation. Maine's student population went down by 27,000 students from 1970 to 1990, but the state spent $727 million on building new schools during that time, the report said.

  • Utilities: Taxpayers have to pay for establishing sewer and water services in newly developed areas. The residents in the new areas do not pay enough taxes to cover their expenses, and the rest of the community picks up the bill. In Arizona, for example, each new home built in a development in Pima County costs the county $23,000 to provide services but only contributes $1,700 in property taxes.

  • Fire, police and emergency medical services: As communities spread further out, more fire and police stations have to be built to keep response times quick. In Phoenix, 18 new fire stations are planned for suburban areas in the next 20 to 40 years at an estimated annual cost of $14.7 million a year to taxpayers.

  • Corporate subsidies: The report claims communities are voluntarily handing over tax money to protect environmentally sensitive lands. The governments spend the money to lure projects that create jobs to their towns but still get little in return. In New Jersey's Hopewell Township, for example, Merrill Lynch was promised $200 million in subsidies to build an office park. Yet, despite the project that has eaten up land and resources, the company recently cut 800 jobs from the area.

Urban sprawl curbs food production, study shows
February 28, 2000
Satellite images show effects of urban sprawl
February 21, 2000
Coral provides clues to climate change
February 7, 2000
Clinton to announce new money to fight global warming
February 3, 2000
Sprawl is not inevitable, report finds
October 8, 1999
Report lists states best, worst at fighting sprawl
October 4, 1999

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