Overview: Economics of Land Conservation - A Study of Scarborough, Maine

Jeremy Wintersteen

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This past spring I completed a study on Scarborough and open space. Specifically titled, "The Economics of Land Conservation - A Study of Scarborough, Maine", this has been a subject that I've been interested in for some time. This was done as an independent study during my last term of business school at Boston University School of Management where I was enrolled the Public and Non-profit Management Program.

The study basically consists of three parts. The first section presents an overview of Scarborough with emphases on planning, open space, and growth issues. Rather than focusing on growth rates, demographics, and other related statistics, however, this section looks at core town responsibilities such as public works, police and fire protection, and education and tries to see how these types of functional areas have kept up with the town's rate and pattern of growth. For example, what effect does Scarborough's growth in Residential and Commercial / Industrial land-uses have upon its Public Works Department (i.e.: roads, sewer, water supply, etc.)?

The second section entails a Cost of Community Services study which breaks down Scarborough's expenses and revenues by three different kinds of land-use (Residential, Commercial / Industrial, and Open Space). This is done by closely analyzing a town's budget and allocating all revenues and expenditures by land-use category. By organizing financial data around land-use categories, this tool allows citizens and planners to see how expensive or lucrative different types of land-uses are in relation to one another. COCS studies give a snapshot of time of a community's demand for services by land-use category.

The last section looks at economic and social benefits of open space. Many view open space as a philosophical / moral issue but it can also have economic implications. Tourism, lobstering, clamming, hunting, beach revenues are obvious economic benefits. Other benefits may be less obvious, but can have equally significant importance. These include wetland / marsh flood control and water purification and increased real estate valuations (property taxes) next to open space areas.

This study was performed using 1994 data. Some highlights of the study found that:

• Every dollar spent on Scarborough's Residential Land-use category brings in $0.78 in revenues. Corresponding expense ratios for Commercial / Industrial and Open Space are $1.76 and $0.61. Residential and Open Spaces, therefore, incur deficits of $0.22 and $0.39, respectively, while Commercial / Industrial provides a surplus of $0.76.

• Scarborough incurs its highest annual deficit per resident ($470) and deficit per residential acre ($277) in the Residential land-use category. Open Space has similar, but smaller, deficits of $10 and $20, respectively.

• 19.9% (or 6,390 acres) of Scarborough's total area (32,189) is Open Space. Federal and state lands comprise over half of that total at 3,508 acres with the marsh being the biggest area. Local open space - areas that the town owns and manages for its residents - totals 94 acres.

• Listed below are Scarborough's Open Space areas (again, using 1994 data):

Ownership      Area                         Acreage  % of    % of Open
                                                     Town    Open Space
Federal        Rachel Carson                393      1.2%    6.2%
State          Marsh, State Park, Old East. 3,115    9.7%    49%
Local          River Sanctuary, Rec         93.82    0.29%   1.5%
               Areas, Local Parks
Non-Profit     SLCT, PN Sanctuary, Islands  75.5     0.12%   1.2%
Use Assessment Tree Growth, Farmland        2,714.49 8.4%    42.5%
               Open Space, Wetlands

• According to Scarborough's 1994 Comprehensive Plan Community Survey, 51% of Scarborough residents think the Town has grown too fast. Regarding this trend, 23% wanted to limit new residential growth while 46% felt it was the Town's role to direct this new growth to appropriate locations. 80% thought Scarborough should develop a plan for conserving, preserving, and using open space and 74% wanted the Town to purchase more land or easements to protect areas of particular scenic beauty or environmental performance.

• Of Scarborough's $4,074,432 deficit, Residential land-use accounted for $5,886,809, Open Space accounted for $124,998, and Commercial / Industrial provided a positive balance of $1,937,375.

• Rapidly growing towns such as Scarborough often face infrastructure challenges involving such areas as public works, police and fire coverage, and education. As populations grow and become increasingly dispersed, pressures to provide public services become greater. Scarborough's large rural area west of the Turnpike and areas to the east blocked by marsh expanses make efficient public service provision difficult and costly. Faced with this dilemma, towns often look to new developments as a way to bring in more tax revenues. On a short-term basis, this works but costs eventually accumulate. If developments are not properly planned, they end up costing much more than they bring in. In addition to unplanned growth straining budgets, there are other costs that include traffic congestion, noise, loss of wildlife, crime, pollution, and change in community character.

Open Space issues have been in Town and local news lately. Falmouth, for example, is currently working on an extensive Open Space Plan. This study has been given to Scarborough Town officials and will hopefully provide a useful framework to assist policy makers in analyzing future land-use decisions.

If anyone would like a copy of this study or would like to discuss it further, please contact me.

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Creation Date: October 3, 1996
Jeremy Wintersteen, P.O. Box 8, Scarborough, Maine 04070