(The following was posted on Plan-link on July 23, 2003)
I’m sure you've heard plenty of skepticism about the COCS concept. I’ve done a few very basic studies along this line (including Easton and Westford, MA, among others), but now advocate against them because of the circular reasoning embedded in the methodology, and because a simplistic interpretation of the COCS findings can lead to twisted policy choices.
A comparison of COCS studies shows that the residential COCS ratio increases (i.e., greater negative fiscal impact) in proportion to the community's percentage of commercial/industrial development. With no C/I development, residential uses come close to paying for themselves; with lots of C/I development, residential appears to be a huge fiscal burden to the community. These findings might lead a community to pursue commercial development and avoid residential development without understanding that the results of the analysis are determined by the methodology.
Another reason that I don’t like COCS is that it tends to focus on average costs and revenues, and so it doesn’t distinguish well between older (often smaller) homes and newer (more upscale) homes in a suburban context. You might as well conclude that the newcomers are paying for themselves, while the longer-term residents are a drain on the community.
To many, COCS looks like a simple and direct tool for analyzing fiscal impacts. It isn’t, and I hope that NHOSP will caution communities about the shortcomings of the COCS approach and the potential for misinterpretation/misuse of a COCS study’s findings.
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