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GIS Used to Examine Local Land Use

UW-Stevens Point student mapping project looks at Portage County tax revenue

A University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student is using her studies in geographic information systems (GIS) to help Portage County take a closer look at its tax revenue and land use.

Yoon Bin Bae, a natural resources planning major with minors in geographic information systems and spatial analysis and natural resources management, has researched Portage County tax revenue trends. She used GIS technologies to create 2D and 3D maps that illustrate urban growth trends in Stevens Point and changes in property tax revenue generated by each city aldermanic district since 2001. 

The senior from South Korea, who is also pursuing a GIS professional certificate, is working with advisers Christine Koeller, a GIS faculty associate, and associate professor Ismaila Odogba of the Department of Geography and Geology.

“Property tax revenue pays for public goods and services such as police and fire protection, education, transportation infrastructure, parks, libraries and more,” said Koeller. “Studies have shown that the per-capita cost of these goods and services increases as population density decreases, leading to costlier rural suburbs when compared to denser urban areas.”

Bae’s maps show the tax revenue for each parcel of land in the county, using data provided by Jeff Hartman, Portage County’s GIS coordinator. She standardized each parcel on a per-acre basis, then calculated each parcel’s proportional revenue per acre so comparisons could be made between 2001, 2007 and 2015. 

“The resulting 2D and 3D map visuals show that smaller, more densely developed parcels near the center of Stevens Point earn more tax revenue than larger, sprawled out parcels in suburban areas when considering the amount of land each parcel consumes,” Koeller said. 
Bae also analyzed land use and parcel data provided by Kyle Kearns, associate planner for the Stevens Point Community and Economic Development Department. It showed that the average single-home tax revenues in suburban areas such as districts 6, 8, 10 and 11 are lower than average single-family home tax revenues near the city center, such as districts 1, 2 and 3. 

Therefore, a less expensive home that sits on a quarter-acre in downtown Stevens Point can generate more revenue per acre than a more expensive suburban house sitting on a half-acre, Koeller said. 

“This research calls on city alderpersons to consider the costs of urban sprawl when making future decisions about land use development,” she said. It can also help as the city plans to update its comprehensive plan and zoning code in 2018.

“This is an ideal time to have this information and start a conversation about updating zoning ordinances that date back as far as 1979, when the true costs of urban sprawl were less known,” Koeller said.

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