Understanding Rochester Finances – Part 3, Infrastructure Efficiency

The best statistic to understand how much operating a city will cost is it’s population density. Most of the costs that a local government has to pay for increase, sometimes exponentially as land area grows. Public safety coverage and response are largely driven by incidence rates and distance to respond. Public Works infrastructure tends to get far more expensive as you build out further. If you want good transit, parks, libraries and arts, the more people they serve in an area the less expensive they are per taxpayer. This is the fundamental issue that has driven up local government costs in Rochester and will continue to do so for at least a generation.

People pay taxes to support the city and they also support the tax paying businesses who pay most of the remainder. An added complication to Rochester is that non-profits like hospitals and charities also don’t pay local taxes.

Here is some 2018 data on some interesting cities to compare ourselves to:

City2018 PopulationLand Area (km^2)Density
St. Paul307000134.612281

All of these cities are considered leaders in sustainability. In terms of actual land area; we are already bigger than Minneapolis or St. Paul. From 2010 to 2018 our population grew at a compound annual growth rate of 1.145% per year. As a thought experiment I asked how long could we grow through infill development without having expand our land area and still not exceed what these cities have done. If this seems unlikely just understand that the vast majority of all growth in the 2010s have been through infill development, particularly near the downtown.

If we continued to grow at the same rate without expanding the borders of the city, here is the year we would be on infrastructure efficiency par with these other cities.

St. Paul2108

What does this mean? Well, if we choose additional infill growth, relatively speaking property taxes will go down. If we continue to sprawl as we did extensively from 1950 – 2010, we are likely to see substantially higher property taxes.


  1. In regards to 2 nd street. Please keep saying no to a rail line. In the past 10 years we spent millions to beautify 2 nd street, planters and watering system, Mayo has signed a contract with Groom for buses, they get to buy them, the snow plows will damage rails, WE get to pay. You guys are crazy .
    Norma Sedlack, disgusted

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