Last month I had an opportunity to do a Curbside Chat in Hays, Kansas, a city that -- as described by Josh McCarty with Urban 3 -- is a little like Australia in its remoteness. That comparison to the land down under was made because, like Australia, the remoteness of Hays has caused the evolutionary grind to produce some unique outcomes. In this case, a very mature conversation regarding their rather tenuous financial situation.

What is going on there reminds me of Memphis, a place that circumstance has forced to ask some difficult, but important, questions. Hays has a dramatically different set of challenges than Memphis; specifically: their relative isolation has forced them to be more self-sufficient and, in many ways, more self-reliant than the typical American city. They have some great leadership and are in the midst of a brave conversation.

I plan to write about Hays more in the future -- specifically some insights about the challenges of a sales tax heavy revenue system -- but for now, I want you to see what a mature, Strong Towns conversation looks like when local leaders start asking the right set of questions.

Here are some slides the staff prepared to brief elected officials and the public. As you look at them, ask yourself: Has my city considered these things?

Something is not right with the model when the consumption rates of land, employees and expenditures is growing so much faster than population.

Something is not right with the model when the consumption rates of land, employees and expenditures is growing so much faster than population.


Hays is able to build new streets -- and get the new growth that comes along with it -- at relatively low cost to the city. Most of the heavy lifting for new construction is done by others. The maintenance bill that comes due a generation later is another matter.

Hays is able to build new streets -- and get the new growth that comes along with it -- at relatively low cost to the city. Most of the heavy lifting for new construction is done by others. The maintenance bill that comes due a generation later is another matter.


Twenty four years ago there was more money with fewer streets. Today it is the opposite; more streets to maintain on a smaller budget . There is a structural reason why Hays is struggling to maintain everything that has been built.

Twenty four years ago there was more money with fewer streets. Today it is the opposite; more streets to maintain on a smaller budget . There is a structural reason why Hays is struggling to maintain everything that has been built.


As the state funding diminishes (predictably), the city is left with the burden to maintain everything on their own. Their tax base in not productive enough to do that. This gap will continue to grow every year it is not addressed.

As the state funding diminishes (predictably), the city is left with the burden to maintain everything on their own. Their tax base in not productive enough to do that. This gap will continue to grow every year it is not addressed.


Underground utilities are too often out of sight, out of mind. These systems can be ignored for a while, but they often fail catastrophically. 

Underground utilities are too often out of sight, out of mind. These systems can be ignored for a while, but they often fail catastrophically. 


For a city, larger lots means a higher level of expense per property.

For a city, larger lots means a higher level of expense per property.


Hays is asking the right questions. They are a model for the rest of us to learn from.

#DotheMath


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