Local Governments Address Long-Term Fiscal Stability Amid Population Growth

June 12, 2019

Utah’s population grew nearly 15% this decade, ranking No. 1 in the nation.1 By 2060, Utah’s population is projected to nearly double. The dramatic growth is a cause for concern for local governments across the state as communities address the fiscal challenges and quality of life for existing residents.

The Utah Foundation recently published the report, Building a Better Beehive: Land Use Decision Making, Fiscal Sustainability and Quality of Life in Utah, which explores these challenges. The report highlights five strategic categories to overcome the challenges of growth in our state:

  1. Promoting efficient land use.
  2. Expanding transportation options.
  3. Preserving green spaces and natural assets.
  4. Preserving and improving community character.
  5. Avoiding undue taxpayer subsidy of new growth.

Promoting Efficient Land Use: While density is often a matter of concern for existing residents, local governments can use density to their advantage to increase local tax revenue while providing opportunities for both new and existing residents and businesses within the community. With a greater emphasis on mixed-use developments, local governments throughout Utah can create urban communities that are appealing and safe while reaping a stronger tax revenue return per square foot.

Expanding Transportation Options: According to a Utah Foundation survey, nearly 76% of local governments noted that the need to increase road capacity was one of the greatest impediments to growth. As Utah’s population continues to grow, roads across the state are increasingly prone to traffic. To combat traffic congestion along the Wasatch Front, the report suggests that state and local government agencies work together to utilize transit-oriented developments that improve accessibility to public transit while developing mixed-use communities that promote quality of life through pedestrian transportation options, including bike paths, sidewalks, and trails.

Preserving Green Spaces and Natural Assets: Utahns are committed to preserving the natural surroundings of the state. Outdoor recreation is essential to the quality of life experienced by Utah’s citizens. Through efficient urban planning, cities along the Wasatch Front can accommodate the growing population while easing pressure on both recreational and agricultural lands. Maximizing space within denser areas can lead to local governments developing “green spaces” to increase the quality of life for urban residents while bolstering nearby property values, thus increasing tax revenue.

Preserving and Improving Community Character: To preserve and improve community character, local governments are encouraged to help citizens and businesses collaborate to ensure that planning efforts offer attractive neighborhoods and community gathering places. By undertaking projects, such as revitalizing historical sites, constructing efficient public parking, and designing an aesthetically appealing landscape, communities can increase the quality of life while tackling the fiscal challenges of population growth.

Avoiding Undue Taxpayer Subsidy of New Growth: As commercial developments grow in communities throughout the state, local governments are faced with fiscal challenges regarding the costs of services and infrastructure for new developments. Local governments must find a balanced approach to utilize impact fees to ensure that current residents do not subsidize new developments. It is important that local governments evaluate impact fees regularly to ensure a strong tax base while welcoming commercial developments that enhance the community.

Addressing the challenges of Utah’s growing population will be a significant priority for policymakers in the foreseeable future. Local governments will need to promote efficient land use by emphasizing mixed-use developments to meet the needs of citizens, businesses, and communities in our state. Transportation demands can be satisfied by improving existing infrastructure and expanding transportation options in our communities. As Utah’s population continues to grow at a high rate in the next 40 years, local governments will continue to work with community leaders to meet the growing demands of the state while preserving the quality of life.

The full report can be found here

  1. Davidson, L. (2018, December 20). Utah ranks No. 1 for population growth this decade – adds nearly 400K new residents. Retrieved June 11, 2019, from https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2018/12/19/utah-ranks-no-population/