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Stop Sprawl
Sprawl Costs Us All

Fire, Police and Emergency Medical Services

Fire, police and emergency medical services are crucial to our safety and our peace of mind. But sprawling development is stretching these services thin, forcing us to jeopardize our safety or pay higher taxes. And, since the true cost of extending these services out to sprawling communities isn't paid by the new residents, this cost becomes one more hidden sprawl subsidy.

Fire and police stations are less expensive and land-intensive than roads or schools, but they entail sizable operating costs. Unlike schools, they are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, even a small force of firefighters can cost a community more than $500,000 per year. (20) And since the size and placement of the force is driven by the need for short response times, the more spread out or poorly planned the transportation system, the more fire and police stations are required.

In sprawling Phoenix, 18 additional fire stations are planned for new suburbs over the next 20 to 40 years, costing new and current taxpayers up to $14.7 million annually. (21) Warren County, outside of Cincinnati, is Ohio's second-fastest growing county-having grown 23 percent since 1990. (22) And, like fast-growing counties across the nation, it needs more police officers. Six new deputies will cost the county $281,000 per year. The community of Monroe, also part of Warren County, has seen its population leap by over 30 percent since 1995. Between 1998 and 1999, fire runs were up by 41 percent, emergency medical calls by nearly 31 percent and police calls by about 11 percent. (23) Fire Chief Mark Neu traces this dramatic increase in fire runs to explosive community growth. (24)

Average Police Response TimeIt's the same story on the East Coast. In Kennebunk, Maine, new development 25 minutes outside of town has created the need for another police patrol. The cruiser and officers needed for the patrol will cost this relatively small town $175,000 a year. (25)

While the costs of more police, fire and emergency services are borne by both existing and new residents, the extra coverage usually benefits new residents alone. So taxpayers in existing communities end up footing much of the bill for extending the public safety net to new areas. Is there an alternative? Instead of building new facilities and hiring the requisite staff, communities can opt to stretch the existing service area. But stretching the service area means longer response times, which sacrifices public safety.

The American Farmland Trust compared police, fire and emergency response times in four different communities in and around Chicago. Their research found, not surprisingly, that emergency personnel took longer to reach newer, sprawling communities. What was surprising was the difference. The fire department took, on average, almost three times as long to reach new, sprawling development as it did to reach development closer to existing communities. The difference in response times for most police calls was even more pronounced. (26)

Instead of extending our service areas willy-nilly, we must follow a plan. And, we must charge new residents their fair share. Ensuring that new developments pay for the true cost of these services will save money-and possibly even lives.

Next: Corporate Subsidies | Report Main


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