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Running Government Like a Business

Newspaper: Teton Valley News & Valley Citizen

Running Government Like a Business

Times are tight across the country right now, and a lot of attention is being paid to taxes and the cost of government.  A common theme that gets repeated in that discussion is the need for government to be run more like a business.  Last Thursday, Joe Minicozzi of Asheville, North Carolina came to Driggs and shared some of his nationally recognized research on downtown revitalization, community, design and how development patterns impact local government’s pocketbook.

Working on a contract with the Sonoran Institute, Mr. Minicozzi studied the property tax receipts of a number of western communities including Driggs, Bozeman, MT and Glenwood Springs, CO.  Over the past 10 years, Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) has built a strong working relationship with the Sonoran Institute that has paid off time and time again by bringing studies and presentations like Mr. Minicozzi’s research on downtown Driggs to Teton Valley.  

Mr. Minicozzi’s research focuses on what is known as “true cost accounting” with respect to taxation.  True cost accounting includes determining where the greatest public deficits are created, and where the greatest public gains are realized. His analysis is done from the perspective of local government where he compares the cost per acre to provide public services to a particular property to the revenue per acre that that property generates in taxes.  

The data presented by Mr. Minicozzi clearly shows that investment in downtown buildings brings local government the most “bang for its buck.”  This holds true in Driggs, Bozeman, Asheville, and every other community across the country.  By concentrating development in downtown core areas, value per acre is increased and thus more tax revenue per acre can be generated. Momentum builds, as one successful downtown revitalization project begets another. We all see this in our own valley with the Buffalo Building, Alpine Wines, Key Bank, Teton Valley Creamery, etc.  

At the same time, lower density development further from the downtown core provides significantly less tax revenue per acre while the costs of providing public services rises significantly.  In order to balance the taxpayer’s books, local government needs to find ways to “stop the bleeding” by encouraging development patterns that pencil out for the community.  These are just some of the key considerations that need to be taken into account as local government makes future planning and land use decisions.  

The underlying message of Mr. Minicozzi’s presentation is that as a community, we must be aware of the tradeoffs that we make with our land use decisions.  By paying attention to true cost accounting in public decision-making, we can have a better-informed discussion on the tax implications of the decisions that we make. If we expect our government to run like a business, the first step is paying attention to how we generate revenues to cover the costs of doing business.  

If you would like to view a full-length video of Joe Minicozzi’s presentation, a link will be posted on our website shortly. 

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