For perhaps the first time in the nation, policy makers in Albemarle County, Virginia are being asked to consider the fiscal liabilities inherent in the political mantra, “Growth is Good.”

Backed by a $13,000 study which notes that population growth in neither the county nor its primary city, Charlottesville, pays for itself, the Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population are presenting findings which indicate that housing prices, or tax rates, must more than double for total revenue streams to match the need for new roads, schools, safety, water and services. Their findings put the break-even sales price at $668,761 per dwelling and illustrate that to compensate for prior population growth – without a tax increase – the next 2,000 homes sold must average $2.7 million.

“This study can help redefine the question about the merits of growth, leading to a balanced and evidence-based debate about who benefits from growth and why we should grow,” says ASAP president Jack Marshall. “If local governments do not reap fiscally from population growth, who profits and who pays?”

ASAP’s report follows a $150,000 “target industry” study last spring which urged policy makers pursue four categories of industries — but failed to consider any costs of growth — and arrives as both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are in their comprehensive planning processes. Marshall and author Craig Evans are quick to note this fiscal study does not include the indirect sales tax benefit of more people spending money, but also note that most new companies bring most employees with them, aggravating the governmental fiscal issue.

“You can’t catch up by accelerating growth,” Evans says. “Continued population growth in the city or county will generate even less favorable ratios of revenues to public-service costs.”

Although neither city nor county policy-makers have yet been formally briefed on ASAP’s study while county planners haven’t been ordered to review it, quietly city staffers indicate that Evans’ numbers are solid. Former mayor, and present city councilor, Dave Norris is outspoken about seeking jobs for the area’s un- and under-employed prior to considering seeking new industries.

“The ‘target’ report is all about high-end jobs that will bring more people here,” Norris says. “This (ASAP) study very convincingly points out that the jobs brought in don’t pay for themselves. At the end of day, the jobs are saddling local taxpayers with more costs; plus all the other related issues of suburban sprawl and increased dependence on the automobile.”

Norris sought a personal briefing after reading that a pro-growth organization, The Free Enterprise Forum, claimed Evans’ work was “flawed in design and unfairly prejudiced in its analysis and conclusions.”

“Reports like this are helpful for challenging that institutional mindset; that ‘growth is good’ mantra,” Norris says. “There might be more value to importing more jobs but, until now, the fiscal impacts on government have never been considered.

“Until we begin comparing the fiscal costs against financial benefits, it’s a race to the bottom for Albemarle.”