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Guest column: Runaway growth is not in Hall County’s best interest
0831Lula-Gateway Industrial Centre
Kubota is opening a new facility in 2017 at the Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365. - photo by RON BRIDGEMAN

By Russell England

Growth, growth, growth! It seems that our elected officials and many other community leaders are obsessed with it. It is almost worshipped like a religion. Where does it end? Even the high priests of growth must realize it is unsustainable in the long run.

Optimum carrying capacity is a concept that is important to farmers and other land managers who make their living from plant or animal populations. The concept relates specifically to population density, or the number of individuals living in a given area, and denotes a sustainable condition in which the environment is not damaged. 

In contrast, maximum carrying capacity denotes a population at the upper limits of its environment’s capability to support it, making it subject to collapse if minor disruptions occur.

Our local elected officials, who are in effect managing human populations, have no concept of optimum or maximum density and have no interest in achieving sustainable conditions for the people they represent. They appear to be so blinded by short-term economic gain for those already wealthy that they cannot envision what a sustainable future might look like. If they have even thought about carrying capacity they apparently believe the concept does not apply to humans. Indeed there is no reason to think it does not. 

The major goal of local governments is growth. Growth for its own sake. Growth without end. Population growth thinly disguised as “economic” growth. Now how can it make any sense to have growth as a goal without considering what an optimum population might be? Of what a sustainable population might be? Of what a sustainable economy might be?

It should be obvious that economic growth cannot last forever, dependent as it is on population growth, depletion of finite resources and passing debt to future generations, all of which are unsustainable. 

Hall County is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to attract more people while having made no effort to determine what a sustainable population might look like. Likewise, there has been no effort to determine what county residents believe an optimum population density might be. 

One frequently heard excuse for attracting industry (which of course attracts more people) is that industry helps shift the tax burden away from residential taxpayers. But that argument falls flat on its face when you consider all the money spent to lure new industry and subsidize it with tax breaks and other incentives, much of which residential taxpayers are on the hook for. 

Hall County spent millions to acquire the Gateway Industrial Park on Ga. 365 and $10 million preparing it for clients. It’s spending another $31 million to install sewer lines to attract more growth. Yet the county can’t afford to adequately fund emergency services for its current population. 

Local governments spend taxpayer dollars in many other ways to promote growth. Like the promotional video on the Hall County website aimed at attracting more people. Like paying for staff time to manage growth-related projects. Like giving money to the Chamber of Commerce, whose main objective seems to be continuous growth. 

Another frequently proffered excuse for promoting growth goes like this: “Growth is going to come whether we want it or not, so we have to plan for it.” This argument also fails the test of common sense. If growth is going to happen anyway, why spend so much money deliberately trying to attract it? It would be much easier and less expensive to plan for growth that ‘just happens.

At what point does economic growth become uneconomical? Studies have shown that growth increases income inequality, and that is certainly happening in Hall County, where home ownership has become virtually impossible for low income people and rents continue to rise. Based on the huge amounts of money spent on economic growth and the associated declining quality of life for so many citizens, it would appear to me that growth has already become uneconomical.

Russell England is a Hall County resident.

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