Development agencies, governments and businesses have long used fiscal impact studies. Sometimes these studies are intended to justify a favored project. Sometimes, there is genuine interest in learning whether the project is a good idea for the community. A fiscal impact analysis is a powerful tool for helping local leaders and the entire community understand whether a project or policy change will improve or harm local-government finances. Doing one-off studies of individual projects can mislead local leaders. This is because stand-alone studies can fail to demonstrate a cumulative impact over time that overwhelms departmental service levels, utility and infrastructure capacity. A more holistic approach is better where the fiscal impact process informs public operating and investment decisions throughout city government.
A community can also miss a golden opportunity by only conducting stand-alone studies of its major projects. It misses the opportunity to use the fiscal analysis process to help reorient local public and private decisions to a more financially sustainable way of doing business. Over the next few weeks we will be showing cities how they can take full advantage of fiscal impact analysis not only to help them understand major, individual developments, but to use the fiscal impact process to improve overall operations. Today we will give you a quick overview of fiscal impact analysis as a primer. You can find more information on fiscal impact studies by downloading our local leader’s guide here.
What is fiscal impact analysis?
Fiscal impact analysis measures how local-government revenues and service costs change because of a change in the economy or the local government itself. The change can be a public or private capital investment or a change in government policy. The analysis subtracts government costs associated with completing and supporting the project from the revenues the project generates for local government. Many types of projects can be evaluated with this kind of model:
- Construction or renovation of residential or commercial real estate
- Business expansions or closures
- Public works investments in facilities and infrastructure
- Changes in government staffing, equipment and operations
- Fee and tax changes
- Land use changes (rezoning, annexations and build-outs)
Cities should use fiscal impact analysis to evaluate any major policy change or development. The time and effort are worth it. Some of the benefits of the study include: discovering potential infrastructure bottlenecks, learning the operating budget and revenue consequences of the project and helping the community understand the timing of these costs and benefits. Still, a community doing one-off studies of individual projects can miss the bigger-picture opportunities fiscal impact analysis offers.
Over the next few weeks we will take a closer look at how local governments should rethink their fiscal planning, forecasting and operations using a fiscal impact lens. Essentially, cities can use fiscal impact analysis as a process to make their key development, financial and operating processes work together to put their organization and their local economy on a more sustainable path. This not only helps them understand the implications of individual choices, it helps them:
- Connect the dots between economic development, planning and budgeting processes
- Build an organizational culture that makes short term decisions that are consistent with long-term goals and sustainability
- Improving citizen and elected official confidence that the city resources are being well managed
Next week, we will look at the strategic and tactical choices a community needs to make if it wants to use the fiscal impact process to help improve long-term sustainability.