#672 – Cost of Community Services

Posted on | The Agurban

Back in our Boomtown days (our loyal readers know when that was
😉 but for you newcomers, 2000-2006), one graphic that appeared in nearly every one of Jack’s 400+ speaking engagements was the Cost of Community Services (COCS), put together by the American Farmland Trust. Below is information from their latest study.

Cost of Community Services

American Farmland Trust (AFT) developed COCS studies in the mid-1980s to provide communities with a straightforward and inexpensive way to measure the contribution of agricultural lands to the local tax base. Since then, COCS studies have been conducted in at least 151 communities in the United States.

Communities pay a high price for unplanned growth. Scattered development frequently causes traffic congestion, air and water pollution, loss of open space and increased demand for costly public services. This is why it is important for citizens and local leaders to understand the relationships between residential and commercial growth, agricultural land use, conservation and their community’s bottom line.


COCS studies help address three misperceptions that are commonly made in rural or suburban communities facing growth pressures:

1. Open lands—including productive farms and forests— are an interim land use that should be developed to their “highest and best use.”
2. Agricultural land gets an unfair tax break when it is assessed at its current use value for farming or ranching instead of at its potential use value for residential or commercial development.
3. Residential development will lower property taxes by increasing the tax base.

While it is true that an acre of land with a new house generates more total revenue than an acre of hay or corn, this tells us little about a community’s bottom line. In areas where agriculture or forestry are major industries, it is especially important to consider the real property tax contribution of privately owned working lands. Working and other open lands may generate less revenue than residential, commercial or industrial properties, but they require little public infrastructure and few services.

COCS studies conducted over the last 30 years show working lands generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services. Their impact on community coffers is similar to that of other commercial and industrial land uses. On average, because residential land uses do not cover their costs, they must be subsidized by other community land uses. Converting agricultural land to residential land use should not be seen as a way to balance local budgets.

For more information, please visit www.farmland.org and www.farmlandinfo.org.