Many city officials welcome large chain retailers for the tax revenue that create. Rarely do they consider the other side of the balance sheet: the tax losses that occur when chains displace local stores and the added costs of providing roads, sewers, police, fire, and other public services to the sprawling new development.
Added police costs are proving especially difficult for many communities that once welcomed big box stores. Take Port Richey, Florida, for example. This small town of about 14,000 people on the state’s western coast was thrilled to attract a Wal-Mart supercenter last year. The store generates about $75,000 annually in tax revenue.
But be careful what you wish for. The town now says that new police costs associated with the store far exceed the new revenue. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, the supercenter generates a large number of police calls and accounts for one in four arrests. Many of these calls are for suspected shoplifting, which requires several hours of police time, during which there are no patrols of the streets. Non-emergency response times have risen dramatically. The number of traffic citations issued has been cut in half. Overtime hours have mushroomed. The department started the year with an overtime budget of $22,000, but has already spent $70,000.
Port Richey is not alone. In North Versailles, Pennsylvania, big box development caused the police force to grow from 10 to 26 officers over the past four years. In Tappahannock, Virginia, Police Chief James Barrett described a new Wal-Mart as “a strain on services.”
Police departments are increasingly weighing in on proposals for new retail development. Earlier this year the Dallas Police Department issued a memo stating that a proposed Wal-Mart would dramatically increase the department’s workload. In Greenland, New Hampshire, both the police and fire departments have cautioned city officials about the costs of a proposed shopping center.