Study: Good Land Planning Central to Avoiding County Budget Gaps

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A new study from the Sonoran Institute indicates that certain types of housing developments can result in major budget shortfalls for county governments in Natrona County and around the Western US.

Natrona County land planning

According to a new study by the Sonoran Institute and RPI Consulting, rural housing developments in the West's wide-open landscape are likely to create major budget gaps for county governments.

What this study shows is that improper land planning is a big part of the reason why counties are in a [tough] situation in the first place.

A new study released today by the Sonoran Institute reveals that certain types of residential developments are likely to create large budget gaps in unincorporated portions of Western US counties, leaving many counties struggling or failing to meet costs for basic fire, police, and infrastructure maintenance services.

“Counties across the Western US are contemplating, or enacting, severe layoffs and budget cuts because they’re struggling to balance their budget,” said the Sonoran Institute’s John Heyneman. “What this study shows is that improper land planning is a big part of the reason why counties are in this situation in the first place, and it also shows that proper land planning is necessary if they want to get out of it.”

The study, commissioned by the Sonoran Institute and performed by RPI Consulting, focuses on the three main development types common in unincorporated portions of Natrona County, Wyoming. These development types are: ranchette, rural exurban, and metro infill. Ranchette and rural exurban developments are located far from metro areas or service centers, whereas metro infill developments are adjacent to the existing infrastructure of towns and cities.

“We found that metro infill developments are the only kind that come close to covering their own costs,” said RPI’s Gabe Preston, who presided over the year-long study. “Ranchette and rural exurban developments, which are common in Natrona County and all over the West, can only pay for about eight or ten percent of their capital costs, and 25-to-31 percent of their operational costs.”

Typically, Western counties fill these budget gaps with money from other sources, including oil and gas property tax, industrial and commercial land uses, tourism sales tax, and other taxes. However, Preston and Heyneman point out that these sources fluctuate due to market forces and legislative changes, and any diminishment of revenue from these sources can lead to a government struggling or failing to meet basic operational budget obligations.

Community event:
Preston and Heyneman will present their work at on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 2 p.m. at the Natrona County commissioner’s work session at the Natrona County Courthouse (Room 115), and again at 7 p.m. at the Natrona County Library (Crawford Room). Attendance is free and open to the public. Learn more about the study and read the complete text at

About the Sonoran Institute
The Sonoran Institute inspires and enables community decisions and public policies that respect the land and people of western North America. Founded in 1990, the Sonoran Institute is a nonprofit organization that is working to shape the future of the West. For more information, visit

About RPI Consulting
RPI Consulting is the only land use and economic planning firm focused exclusively on rural and resort communities in the Rocky Mountain West. RPI’s professional and experienced Durango-based team has developed a reputation of involving the community in the decision-making process while still adhering to a thorough and rigorous analytical approach. The team’s information-gathering techniques are sophisticated, but it emphasizes a simple and straightforward presentation of information and data in a way that everyone can understand in order to facilitate wise and informed decision making process.

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