State policies attack Euclid

Urban sprawl remains at the top of critical issues facing Euclid. Even during the economic downturn, urban neighborhoods throughout Ohio are desperately competing with ever growing exurbs. This unequal competition in many ways resembles a boxing match with the state servicing as the referee. In our area, the greenfield towns of Medina, Chesterland and Aurora are the fresh-faced challengers.

Such cites grow because of state policies. These polices distort real-estate markets with the unintended consequences of punishing older communities. Rural areas are a developer’s paradise with their abundance of cheap land unfettered by established housing or city blocks. Businesses also love the greefields: no contaminated land to or obsolete builds to raze. Ohio state policy still looks to link Ohio with highway “macro-corridors.” These corridors always need better interchanges and access road. When near built up areas, these corridors naturally allow development to push into undeveloped areas.

But isn’t this growth good and natural? Given that N.E. Ohio’s population growth is about zero, in the past 40 years, you can say that there is really no growth at all. It’s simply a transfer of wealth from one place to another.

As for this growth being natural, it is really heavily subsided by the state of Ohio. Road construction is the most immediate assistance. State-wide tax abatement fuels additional sprawl. In fact, cities like Solon and Strongsville can offer the same business tax abatements that Cleveland and Euclid can. These newer communities inevitably require more and bigger schools. The state assists. Finally, as societal infrastructure ages, the state steps in with help to support both the capital and social costs. So, the developers reap the profits while the maintenance costs are billed in part to the state tax payer.

Meanwhile, Euclid, like every older area state wide is like the grizzled old champ. Once, we were the challenger to Cleveland, a greenfield boomtown in the 40s and 50s. We still have strengths including highway and rail access, and, close proximity to downtown Cleveland and, the lake. But, age has caught up to us. Our housing stock is aging with many obsolete types, and our industrial areas are dominated by brownfields.

Ohio should be a fairer referee and do more to help balance these inherent disadvantages. While the state helped to clean up the former PMX site, they need to do more and, in a timely manner to help Euclid compete.

State subsidies for general infrastructure improvements distort the housing markets. Homes in the new suburbs are modern, bigger and upscale. Like a magnet, the cost, size and tax advantages of these newer communities lure wealthier residents from Euclid. Our own state taxes are used to in reality weaken Euclid, to hurt our property values, to decimate our tax base. This leaves us in a Catch-22: raise taxes and fees and drive folks out, or, let services slide, and drive folks out.

This shell game of transferring wealth from older communities like Euclid to newer ones only increases the burden for all state tax payers. No matter the income levels of any city, roads need paving, citizens need services, and, children require and education. In school projects alone, Ohioans committed a combined 600 million dollars for the reconstruction of Cleveland, and East Cleveland schools. Now, of course, Euclid is benefiting from that same program. The truth is that Euclid’s tax base is not deep enough, to absorb alone the costs of new schools. Consider this: For every new road project, every new cubic yard of concrete and asphalt must be maintained. That’s on top of the infrastructure already in place. Those costs too will be absorbed by the tax payer.

It is far cheaper and economically sustainable for the taxpayers to take care of our urban communities rather than to abandon them and build new.  

The alternative is smart growth. New Jersey, Maryland and Oregon all have some variety of policies that create a favorable climate for urban redevelopment.

The basic policy of smart growth understands that state resources are finite and scarce. State tax dollars are predominantly funneled into existing urban areas instead of spread out among sprawling communities. New communities may grow, but local taxes exclusively pay for improved infrastructures and schools. This removes the hidden state subsidies for sprawling growth.

In another set of policies, states such a New Jersey have spent millions of dollars to buy up farm land outright, or, to purchase the land’s development rights.

Now some might argue that such polices would violate Ohio’s constitutional right of Home Rule.

Communities do have the right to develop as they see fit. But in reality, it is the state that subsidizes these local decisions. Every new suburb creates a spiraling burden on all Ohioans.

Such polices on growth is also not an attack on the free market as no free market exists now. Protecting state tax payers by setting spending priorities is a legitimate and vital state responsibility.

Older communities are desperate for residential investment and home ownership. In many of our urban areas, buying a home means taking substantial risk in property appreciation, level of services, crime and schools. Therefore, these buyers should be rewarded for taking that risk, for helping to preserve the local tax base. For these owners and investors, there should be real state tax relief for investing in communities like Cleveland, Euclid and Lakewood.

Smart growth, tax relief farmland preservation, are all part of the policy mix that can help older communities like Euclid, and protect the pocket book of all Ohioans. Or, as Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic preservation said years ago “development that destroys communities and places people care abbot isn’t progress. It’s chaos. And, it isn’t inevitable. It’s avoidable - or at the very least, controllable.” Any person seeking state office should be held accountable for hurting our town, Euclid.

Daryl K Langman, Euclid City Councilman, Ward 7


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Volume 2, Issue 4, Posted 3:40 PM, 06.02.2011