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Is the town dying?
Old 03-14-2013, 04:06 PM   #1
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Is the town dying?

Yesterday, a letter to the editor, in the local paper, asked the voters to reject plans for a new high school. This is a very hot subject, as the old school is very outdated, and no longer safe. The people are evenly split and the the back and forth letters are intense.

I see the subject as being one of the most important in this generation, and surely for the next, and probably a game changer for the county.

to start, the letter:
Quote:
Open Forum response to Rita Peterson’s Hall referendum cart before the horse:I agree with Rita Peterson that the Hall Township voters are being asked to put the cart before the horse. There are fewer students going to Hall than 50 years ago. I share Ms. Peterson’s opinion that Spring Valley needs to focus on bringing in new industry and businesses. There has been virtually no development in Spring Valley for many, many years with one exception, the Wal-Mart Distribution Center. We need business and industrial development such as what Peru and Ottawa have before we should even consider spending $32 million on a new school! Spring Valley is fast becoming a community of senior citizens living on fixed incomes. Wages for younger families are not going up. Exactly where do the members of the Hall Board think people are going to find the money for increased real estate taxes for the next 30 years? Increasing real estate taxes in a community with very few amenities and no job opportunities will certainly not be an incentive for families to move to Spring Valley. Fewer young families would mean even fewer students attending Hall High School.
I graduated Hall High School. A quality education does not consist of the brick and mortar of the building but rather skilled, dedicated teaching staff. Hall Township voters need to vote “no” to a new school at this time. Ms. Peterson is right…we cannot afford a new school!
Now... the question "Is the town dying?" is not meant this particular town, but those like it all over the US. In this case, a farm belt town, but it extends to small towns everywhere. Areas designated as "Micropolitan" for census purposes.

The question goes beyond schools. It goes to downtown retail areas, police departments, recreational parks, pools and sports facilities, public works and utilities. In our own town, (not the one mentioned above) the Pool has closed, library hours cut, teachers laid off, and recreational facility maintenance cut back. That... and in comparison with nearby communities, we are well off and stable.

A second more obvious problem of funding comes in the decline of infrastructure, and the increasing burden of pensions even as populations decrease and the average age of residents increases.

Is this happening in your town, and if not, what about the towns in the outskirts? Those of us who live in gated or senior communities are not as exposed directly, except as we go into exurbia.

So how important, and will it affect you in retirement? Should you stay in, or move to a small town? If the choice is a retirement community like "The Villages", is the financial status stable, or will fees and taxes take a bigger bite? Will today's amenities be there in the future?

Perhaps not too important today, but what about the next 10, 20, or 30 years?

Here's a current article about the change in demographics. Maybe something to keep in mind when deciding to move or downsize.
Census: Record 1 In 3 Counties Now Dying Off, Hit By Aging Population, Weakened Local Economies
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Old 03-14-2013, 04:27 PM   #2
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I saw a news magazine show on Camden, NJ recently.... it was where my mom grew up in the 20s and 30s...

It looks like it peaked in the 40s or 50s and has been declining every since... they said it is the poorest city in the country and has the highest crime...

I wonder how a place like that can decline so badly.... it seems that across the river things are going well... I wonder if there is a difference in taxes etc. that keeps people from living in NJ as opposed to PN...


But, to your question... I do think that you have to supply a good school to students even if there is no growth... I would bet that maintenance was not being done on the old one and it is cheaper to build a new one than fix up the old....
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Old 03-14-2013, 04:41 PM   #3
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A lot of the decay in counties certainly has to do with the aging population and the decline in working populations. Here in Texas, we have the opposite happening due to the large attraction of jobs in the energy industry. An article today:

Population soars in metro regions of Texas | News - Home
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Old 03-14-2013, 05:08 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imoldernu View Post
So how important, and will it affect you in retirement? Should you stay in, or move to a small town?

Perhaps not too important today, but what about the next 10, 20, or 30 years?

Here's a current article about the change in demographics. Maybe something to keep in mind when deciding to move or downsize.
Census: Record 1 In 3 Counties Now Dying Off, Hit By Aging Population, Weakened Local Economies
I think the above is the takeaway. We plan to move one more time, and it will be in a big city, in a close-in neighborhood if not "urban" - not a suburb/exurb. It'll also be an area with a reasonable COL, moderate climate, diverse economy with some growth expected, and no known water supply issues. YMMV

I think the linked article is a good read. But I've been reading Joel Kotkin, Richard Florida and others for some time.
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Old 03-14-2013, 05:22 PM   #5
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Well, I just took a look at the site for my small Kansas home town. The population has grown since I left and there's a new high school. I see a lot of businesses that didn't exist 15-20 years ago and I recognize the names. Looks like a lot of the folks I went to school with moved away for a bit but eventually came back "home" to settle down and have a family.

I know they didn't spend $32 million to build the new school, though....
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Old 03-14-2013, 07:04 PM   #6
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Here is what's going on in my "neighborhood".

Bankruptcy expert who helped Chrysler named Detroit emergency manager | Fox News

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A bankruptcy expert who represented automaker Chrysler LLC during its successful restructuring has been chosen to steer Detroit out of its financial abyss. The distressed city, which was once one of the nation's most prosperous manufacturing centers, is now the largest U.S. city to have its finances placed under state control.

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Old 03-14-2013, 07:38 PM   #7
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I don't have any advice regarding tiny, little, medium, or large cities and their chances to shrink or grow, other than either of those options are possible.

I grew up in a town that had 40,000 people when I moved there as a little kid in the early 1990's. Now it is 140,000. Access to good k-12 and university education and proximity to very highly paid jobs are the key factors that led to this growth I would guess. That plus comparatively low housing costs versus NY and CA and elsewhere (where the jobs were relocated from mostly).

As for why schools and public infrastructure fall apart, in my opinion it is how money is budgeted. Capital funds for new construction are relatively easy to acquire (new muni bond issue anyone?). Operations and maintenance expenses are harder to acquire (they come out of the operating budget). Capital budgets and operating budgets are separate in the government finance world (not sure if that is always true but it is in the entities I am most familiar with on the municipal and state levels).

The result is you can build a nice shiny new building, but staffing may be inadequate to operate the facility and over time the building may not be adequately maintained. The result is deferred maintenance builds up and the facility falls apart. And/or the facility is never upgraded or renovated to reflect modern uses and current trends.

Add to that the political nature of public finance. As a mayor or town council or board of education, if you can build a beautiful new facility, you can show it off to your constituents. You can't really show off how well you have maintained your HVAC systems or kept your sewer pipes in top condition or upfitted all your facilities with new windows and insulation that will reduce operating costs.
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:29 AM   #8
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I read some articles about the demographic shifts increasingly favoring big cities. The opportunities for teleworking presented by technology were predicted to lead to a rural renaissance but kids like dense city centers. So do some of us old codgers. Add Ms Yahoo and a few others banning telework and the rural migration may never be realized.
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:54 AM   #9
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I know you are talking towns, but the state which that town is in also is a factor.

I grew up in that state. I would never move back. Way too much disregard for the future finances of the state. Too much focus on the here and now of pensions, etc.

If the state doesn't make it an attractive place to move to, then the towns in the state are double-sunk.
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Old 03-15-2013, 10:48 AM   #10
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Most cities and towns in the US have a good deal of unrented small business space now. But I think we can all tell when a town is undesirable -- it doesn't have to be in a death spiral.

If I thought our city was going down hill I'd get out of Dodge fast. I sure do not want to be one of those old people living in a downtrodden neighborhood. My Dad remarried shortly before he died. The lady stayed in my parents house and the town went seriously down hill. The old attractive neighborhood is now surrounded by declining real estate. I never want to be in such a position and we can afford to insure this never happens.

I'm not planning on moving but if I were to move I'd look for an area:
1) supported by a diverse industrial base
2) educational options including nearby colleges and JC's
3) a good library system
4) low crime rates
5) park access to pleasant walking and jogging
6) moderate growth rate that attracts all age levels
7) a climate I like

After that I'd look for the right house in the right neighborhood.
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Old 03-16-2013, 09:03 AM   #11
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Some evidence of the same phenomena, though it varies dramatically from county to county. And it appears cities are "winning" and rural areas are "losing?"

How it varies from year to year, decade to decade, I don't know...
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Old 03-16-2013, 10:07 AM   #12
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Some evidence of the same phenomena, though it varies dramatically from county to county. And it appears cities are "winning" and rural areas are "losing?"

How it varies from year to year, decade to decade, I don't know...
Yep. This map is spot on.

Besides cities and rural, there is also a "tourism" factor in some states. NC sees growth at the coast and in certain mountain counties. NC's mountain counties are pretty healthy compared to other parts of Appalachia. It isn't necessarily the state, rather the more Southern geography that helps (a touch of winter without a brutal winter).

I was doing a google search on this and found an article from the late 80's. It appeared that the pattern you mention was already in place by then. I can't find the article right now, sorry.
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Old 03-16-2013, 12:17 PM   #13
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I read some articles about the demographic shifts increasingly favoring big cities. The opportunities for teleworking presented by technology were predicted to lead to a rural renaissance but kids like dense city centers. So do some of us old codgers. Add Ms Yahoo and a few others banning telework and the rural migration may never be realized.
That is certainly true around here. City centers fill up with young people, especially well employed affluent young people. Until recently many of them left for affluent suburbs when they had children, but that hasn't been true the last five years or so- it remains to be seen if this is a social trend or a economic cycle having to do with the real esate market. Cities also have the highest concentration of the subsidized class, including older people who live in subsisidized, age tested apartments.

I have no data, but to my eye, the old and most of the middle aged in central cities are either well off, or poor. If you are well off you pay more for most everything except transportation than you would in a suburban area. If you meet the means test hurdles, you can live quite well right in nice parts of the city for not much money.

Market rate apartments that a person with so-so employment can afford can be fairly grim. There has been a great deal of new city apartment building lately, and theoretically at least this should slow down the rental rate increases.

Places like Camden are in a class by themselves. Once a large portion of inhabitants of any municipality are underclass, time to call in the pallbearers for that city. OTOH, places like small towwns in ND can lose population for decades, and then the Bakken Shale opens up and suddenly it's a boomtown. It's a lightning strike that has occurred many times in the history of the US West.

Ha
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