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Lack of Services in Rural Sprawl vs. Urban/Suburban Services

Low density rural residents receive proportionately fewer public services for their tax dollars and development fees from counties. Often, residents are unaware of the degree to which there are no services available, or rendered at considerable delay due to travel time and priorities, and the degree to which they are simply "on your own" when purchasing a ranchette or exurban lot.

The lack of availability of full public services from a planning and revenue standpoint seem to indicate that the category of low density rural residential development "pays for itself" from a county-wide political standpoint. This is likely true in the short term, but as rural lands build out, it is less clear that the long term service needs requiring community retrofit still make rural residential development an attractive proposition from a cost and benefit standpoint. This problem is addressed directly in the section on the tax burden of rural residential development.

A comparison of city services to rural exurban residential services demonstrates the lack of services.

Urban "city service" Rural Residential Responsibility
Potable water provided by utility Well water. Drilling well, maintaining well and pump, pipes and transmission, storage, any quality testing, and the like are the responsibility of the landowner. An adequate well is required before building permits will be issued, but not before the purchase of a parcel — "buyer beware." Even then, groundwater resources may not be sustainable, particularly in fractured rock zones above the valley groundwater aquifers. Contamination of groundwater may also become a problem; quality standards are also not normally required for purchase or for building permits.
Waste water treatment by utility Septic tanks with leach field, and often land dedicated for a replacement leach field, will be required before building permits will be issued. Percolation depends on soil profile, so systems vary between $7,000 and $40,000 to install. Again, parcels may be purchased which do not have adequate percolation, thus no option for waste water treatment — "buyer beware."
Garbage collection curbside Garbage in rural areas is generally handled by the landowner, who generally transports garbage to a garbage transfer station. Organic wastes are often burned on site, requiring a burning permit conditioned on "burn days" for air quality and "burning season" for fire safety.
Recycling Recycled materials are generally transported by the landowner to collection stations, which may or may not be the same as the garbage transfer station.
Streets Roads are provided by the county. Road maintenance in rural areas can often be deferred, and road conditions may be less than desirable. Often, rural roads are not designed to urban standards, and are narrow with minimal easements on the sides. Safety stripes are often lacking, as is adequate safety signage for curves or bumps. Response time for snow plowing, or sand application in freezing conditions is slow if it exists at all. In areas of population growth, rural roads are often overcrowded many years before road widening or traffic control signs or lights are installed.
Street lighting The rare exception, far from the rule.
Flood control and runoff storm drains Rural residents are expected to handle all runoff and flood potential themselves. Often the drainage ditches or culverts installed on rural roads will become clogged, and will not be unclogged in a timely way by county services; generally rural road ditches are serviced annually or less often by road crews unless there is an eminent road hazard. Some rural residents will carry their own chain saw when driving after a wind, snow, or ice storm for road clearing purposes.
Police protection and safety While crime is generally low in rural areas, county sheriff patrols are generally rare, and response time is slow to calls. Many rural residents invest in security gates, lighting, etc.
Fire protection Fire fighters are generally located near urban areas, and response time is slow. Rural volunteer fire fighting organizations are common, but likewise have slow response time as volunteers must travel to the station first. Many rural residents invest in some fire equipment and outdoor water fixtures that can act as hydrants. Rural residents are required to keep a "defensible space" of 100 feet around buildings.
Animal control Slow response time, or inability to serve, can be a difficulty. Rabid animals, stray animals, broken fences and the like often must be handled directly by the landowner.
Weed and pest control Landowners are expected to control weed and pest infestations on their own land. Some level of public weed and pest control may occur as annual maintenance on the county road (which is quite often on an easement of the owner's parcel).
Schools, School transportation The trend in many of the rural and less densely populated areas of the watershed has been some consolidation of schools, meaning for some, more distance. School bussing routes have been reduced in some areas, creating a commute to the nearest bus stop.

The purpose of this comparison is to note the degree to which rural residents are responsible and need to invest in their own systems for services. Unlike most development which requires public investment in infrastructure (most often included as requirements for the developer), in exurban growth this cost falls on the landowner/resident. Most of these landowner responsibilities rely on the assumption of individual transportation and fuel, as well as the individual landowner investment in private tools needed for service delivery (a familiar basic tool for rural residents is the pickup truck). With radically increasing fuel prices, and in an era of climate change when carbon footprint analysis becomes more prevalent in policy decisions, the societal view on the costs and benefits of low density development may change. Increasing costs may make rural residential development affordable only to an ever increasingly wealthy demographic, though this has not emerged to date as a limiting factor for exurban growth in the Sacramento Watershed.