Municipal Law Alert, April 2011
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance collects and publishes “Municipal Facts”, a booklet that contains detailed financial and demographic data for Wisconsin cities and villages.
The financial statistics included in the study include some gross spending information but most are broken out into spending by category per capita. That per capita breakout allows for comparison of municipalities of various populations. The categories include: general government, street maintenance, fire, ambulance, police, basic spending, operating, general obligation debt, municipal tax levy, municipal tax rates, equalized value, shared revenue, property tax base (total and broken down to residential, commercial and manufacturing). The study also includes information about total income reported by residents of that municipality, both gross amount and per tax return. When a category produces some revenue such as police, the spending is presented both in gross terms and net of the related revenue.
The current version of Municipal Facts reveals some interesting data for local area municipalities (populations as of 2008):
When I first looked at the data, I thought that I might be able to find some interesting correlations in the information. Is spending per capita related to population? Does the presence of a university (Eau Claire, Menomonie, River Falls) impact spending categories? Does the percentage of tax base that is residential impact per capita costs? I find that the questions I can ask are much more sophisticated than my analytical abilities with the above small sample. The only area of further inquiry that looks like it might produce an interesting correlation is general obligation debt per capita and how it relates to the municipal tax rate. I’ll leave it to the statisticians to determine whether my hunch is correct. But, even if a statistical correlation is found, that does not establish that high debt causes high tax rates. Maybe it just means that conservative officials keep both the debt and tax rate low. You will have to draw your own conclusions from the data but it is very interesting.
The printing of the current booklet has been underwritten by Ehlers & Associates, advisors for municipal finance, and by Baker Tilly (formerly Virchow Krause), CPAs. The book is available from Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.* The Taxpayers Alliance has been providing detailed, accurate, non-partisan information about state and local finance to individuals, businesses and government for more than 75 years. There is a wealth of information available to download from its website at http://www.wistax.org/.
* Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, 401 North Lawn Avenue, Madison, WI 53704-5033. (608) 241-9789. http://www.wistax.org.