Tax revenues from residential development in Bandera County, Texas, fail to cover the costs of customary services for new residents, according to a study released today by American Farmland Trust.

In contrast, Bandera County's ranch and open lands generate nearly four times as much revenue as the county spends on them in services.

The study identified Bandera County's fiscal year 2001 revenues and expenditures for three different types of land uses: ranches and open land, commercial/industrial and residential.

Revenues generated by each land use were compared to county dollars spent to provide public services such as road maintenance, schools, courts, water and wastewater treatment, and law enforcement.

The results show that for every dollar that ranches and open lands paid in taxes, the county spent only 26 cents to provide them with services. Commercial/industrial lands also provided a net gain to county coffers, demanding only 26 cents back in services.

But residential development required $1.10 in services for every tax dollar it contributed. The study found that the combined budgets of Bandera County's independent school districts alone comprised 74 percent of all expenditures.

“This study provides county officials and residents with a clear picture of the costs of rapid growth,” said Julie Shackelford, American Farmland Trust's Texas regional director.

“Residential development does not lower property taxes. Without efforts to balance business growth and maintain agricultural lands and open space, future property taxes will need to rise or public services will decline.”

With a population of 17,645 in 2000, Bandera County has grown by 67 percent since 1990. Despite its rapid growth, Bandera is still a rural county, with roots steeped in Hill Country tradition.

The county's primary industries are tourism and ranching — all intrinsically linked to its Old West heritage.

Over the last decade, commuters to nearby cities have moved to Bandera County, leaving county officials struggling with how to pay for the new demands for county services. While traditional ranches remain throughout the county, some have given way to smaller “ranchettes,” or, single-family homes in platted residential subdivisions.

Many of the county's rural lots are yet to be developed, leaving the potential for thousands of new homes.

“Ranches and open space are not areas just waiting to be developed,” Shack-elford said. “They are irreplaceable assets that support the economy, harbor wildlife, filter and recharge drinking water and give Bandera County its beauty and quality of life.”

“People come to Bandera County for its quality of life and unique rural heritage,” said Richard Evans, Bandera County judge. “This study shows that protecting the county's vibrant Hill Country rural traditions could provide the key to the county's future prosperity.”

“The results of Bandera County's Cost of Community Services (COCS) study are consistent with similar studies conducted in Hays County, Texas, and communities nationwide,” said Carl Mailler, an economic research specialist who conducted the study.

“Even with reduced assessment values for agricultural properties, these lands more than pay their way fiscally through revenues and through contributions to the local economy.”

Study results were presented to the Bandera County Commissioners' Court in, December.

American Farmland Trust is a private, nonprofit farmland conservation organization founded in 1980 to stop the loss of productive farmland and to promote farming practices that lead to a healthy environment. Its action-oriented programs include public education, technical assistance in policy development and demonstration farmland protection projects.

AFT's Texas Regional Office is at 101 Uhland Road, Suite 205 in San Marcos. Phone: 512-396-5517. For more information, visit AFT's home page at www.farmland.org.