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Status Quo or Let's Grow

This view of what you or your community would like to see as far as development in your municipality has been hotly debated many times over. The rural areas for the most part seem to be content with little or no growth. Although they all express concerns over the lack of tax money to fund even everyday needs. The promotion of growth to add to the tax base just isn't high on the priority list, or they just don't know how to achieve it.

If you feel that your community is in need of growth, it will take some effort on your part to accomplish it. If commercial growth is your goal, it requires a realistic view of your zoning rules, assuming you have zoning and providing the necessary infrastructure to attract businesses. After all, if sewer/water and broadband are not reasonably available, your chances of getting commercial growth are next to none. Of course, there is the outside chance that a large distribution center might want to locate in your community and pay for the extension or even the creation of a public system, but again the probabilities are little to none nowadays.

The proximity to various transportation routes can play a key role as does the general population and area competition from other businesses if any. If an interstate route is accessible nearby, that can work to your advantage. A reasonable population density within a targeted area that has enough consumers to support a particular business venture is a very good stimulus too.

Tractor Supply and Dollar General are two examples of commercial establishments that will locate in a more rural area because they know their demographics. They target these areas to find locations at a better price than typical commercial developments. Who hasn't driven on a secondary roadway only to see a Dollar General Store pop up out of nowhere? These can be a catalyst for future growth as a commercial district can grow around them. Other businesses will want to take advantage of the consumer traffic that is generated by their operations to enhance their own commercial endeavors. Thus, this equates to growth possibilities. Basically, it has to start somewhere. These types of businesses can be a welcomed addition to a rural community for the services and convenience they provide. They will contribute to your tax base and generally provide an esthetically pleasing facility in your community.

But on the other hand, there are those that like things just the way they are and do not want to leave the door open for any type of commercial development. That is understandable as this kind of growth brings problems as well. Traffic and the need for traffic lights can be a serious problem. Did you know that PennDot doesn't own those lights on the major roads? The municipality is responsible for the ongoing electric bill and any and all maintenance. Something you might consider if a new development is coming in is to have a legal agreement that the lights and all related costs are those of the developer. If they really want to come to locate there, they can work that additional cost into the overall project. A simple traffic light system can easily be in excess of $100,000, plus monthly electrical bills. Trying to maintain these lights with a typical municipal crew and equipment is difficult at best. Most developers will contract a service company to come out and change bulbs etc. For the most part, they are far more qualified and experienced in such things. Additional difficulties can be things like snowplowing, signage, light, and noise pollution. If any residential areas are close by, you may be faced with an angry crowd that doesn't want their neighborhood changed to benefit some out of state developer. All legitimate concerns that may be raised.

Residential growth can cause similar apprehensions. The need for public infrastructure, roads, water and sewer will need to be considered if it's a subdivision of any size. They are ways that the municipality and/or the developer can implement these needs, but a policy of "any all improvements will be born at the cost of the developer" may be a way to deflect costs away from taxpayers, but some also like to stand behind the theory that "if you build it, they will come." Again, this is a growth question that local governments often grapple with.

In general, residential growth can end up costing a municipality money in the long run, as these residents will continually need or ask for other services. Police, garbage, recycling and recreational facilities are just a few you may be faced with and none of these are cheap. Whereas commercial growth typically makes the municipality money as very few additional services are requested because they have been taken into account prior to the location of the business. Of course, there are tax incentive programs, etc. that can be offered to lure them to your community if need be, the municipality can see a quick return on its investment if common sense negotiation is tackled.

There are a variety of options that your local government should consider when determining plans for economic development. Do we continue just as we have been for years and years, "status quo" or do we become more active to encourage growth? Without an increase in taxes, a slow or no growth situation will eventually find you with empty pockets and taxpayers aren't typically in favor of tax increases. However, growth brings about a new set of problems and for some just aren't worth it. We leave you with one last thought for a future posting. Is it better to regularly increase taxes on a small scale or hold off until you have to have a significant amount? Look at it like this, would you rather get bitten by a dog slightly numerous times, or one hard bite?

Keystone Municipal Solutions is ready to assist you with your long-term plans. Be it status quo or let’s grow, grow, grow. The KMS team has mentors, experts and experienced members who understand the intricacies of local government and can assist in getting your municipality on the right path according to your individual visions of the future. Sure, you can sit back and let future municipal leaders worry about it, or you can be proactive and say “fire this thing up, it’s time to rethink the future.”


About the Author

David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.

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