Do you want both lower taxes and a better quality of life? Encourage the County to plan with the cost to provide community services in mind. 

For three decades, the American Farmland Trust has been researching the fiscal impact of different land uses within municipalities all over the nation. Each land use generates different amounts of revenue because they are taxed at different rates. They also require different expenditures for municipal services. In summary, this is the picture:

From the American Farmland Trust’s Farmland Information Center.
Read the full study here.

New Housing Without Sprawl

Marion County is one of only six counties in the nation that had positive job growth during the pandemic. We are a boomtown. Projects are underway to add 5 million square feet of industrial and warehouse space over the next few years. Where there are jobs, there must be housing to support the growing workforce. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Florida reports that Marion County is growing by over 2 percent per year. We added 7,700 residents in 2020. That breaks down to 21 people each day. 

Growth is good for a community. The opportunity presented to our County is to grow wisely. When residential sprawl threatens farmland and open space, we all lose. Higher taxes, lower quality of life and the loss of community character and culture are all at stake. The good news is that in Marion County, there is still ample room for residential and commercial development within its designated Urban Growth Boundary. There are about 55 square miles (35,000 acres) of permitted lands available for development in the Urban Growth Boundary – roughly the area of the city of Miami.

In this map of the County, you can see the Farmland Preservation Area in red and the Urban Growth Area in turquoise. The green is protected public land. The brown shaded areas are valuable agricultural soils. Learn more about the Farmland Preservation Area here.

Balancing Act

We are working with elected officials and staff at the County and with supportive community leaders to encourage good planning as Ocala/Marion County grows. Good planning involves identifying where, when, and how development will occur. In 2005, the County had the foresight to create the Farmland Preservation Area as an important first step in protecting land for recreation, farms, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. The challenge is keeping it that way as the pressure grows to break up farmland tracts.

Part of the process is also determining where infrastructure investments make the most sense. Land designated as residential is entitled to roads, schools, water, police, fire, playgrounds and all the other infrastructure components that make a community. This is where a Cost of Community Service (COCS) study would help determine how a proposed land-use change is likely to affect the County budget. Good planning means saying ‘no’ when zoning change requests in rural areas require comparatively expensive infrastructure upgrades as compared to more urban locations.

Saving Farmland Saves Money

While residential development requires expensive public services and infrastructure, privately owned farms do not require significant public infrastructure. Preserving farms and agricultural lands – through good planning and conservation doesn’t just protect our environment, economy and quality of life. It is also an important tool for balancing the budget at the county level.

Photos graciously provided by Elma Garcia Cannavino.

Cost of Community Services studies conducted over the last 30 years show working lands generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services. Their impact on community coffers is similar to that of other commercial and industrial land uses. On average, because residential land uses do not cover their costs, they must be subsidized by other community land uses. Converting agricultural land to residential land use should not be seen as a way to balance local budgets.

American Farmland Trust

Tip the Scales

Our Ocala/Marion County leaders are responsive to the wishes and desires of the community. We have an opportunity to tip the scales in the right direction. If you agree that balancing our farmland and open space with residential growth is an important component in a healthy future for our community, join us. We are watching for threats to farmland, educating about conservation and engaging community leaders in smart planning.

Add your hoofbeats to our herd. Every member makes us stronger and better able to speak out for preserving the character and culture that horses and horse farms bring to Ocala/Marion County for future generations.

Learn More:

Cost of Community Services Studies: Making the Case for Conservation

Go to the American Farmland Trust’s Farmland Information Center and search for “Cost of Community Services” to find a long list of local studies.