Source: Wamego Smoke Signal

K-State Local Government Report Tracks County Budget Trends

June 12, 2014

Per capita revenues (adjusted for inflation) in Pottawatomie County increased 1 percent between 2004 and 2012 to $931. The County's per capita expenditures increased 26 percent to $1,158.

Meanwhile, real per capita revenues in the average Kansas county increased 30 percent to $1,533 and expenditures rose 29 percent to $1,497.

This data comes from researchers at Kansas State University who have just released the newest "Kansas County Fiscal Conditions & Trends" report to county commissions statewide.

The 15th in a series, the report's customized analyses detail each county government's budgetary trends from 2004 to 2012. The data used to fuel these analyses came from the counties' own budget documents, submitted to the Kansas Department of Administration every year.

The report's main purpose is to be useful to county elected officials as they prepare the budget for the next year. But, it can benefit all Kansas citizens, said economist John Leatherman, director of the Office of Local Government, a K-State Research and Extension outreach program.

"It all starts with having access to basic data," Leatherman explained. "We're simply trying to give county commissioners tools that can help them monitor their financial situation.

"At the same time, though, the report can provide average citizens with unbiased, independent information about local government finance. So, it can serve as a starting point for dialogue between elected officials and their constituents."

The report contains the information for 34 expenditure categories and 20 revenue categories for Kansas counties. By adjusting this data for inflation over time, K-State's local government economists could also identify and evaluate any underlying trends.

Even so, Kansans must take care when attempting to draw their own conclusions from the data, warned Rebecca Bishop, lead author of the report and the Office of Local Government's public finance program director.

"You need to look beyond the numbers to understand the local situation. You also need to consider any part of the broader context that may be affecting local finances, such as the current economic environment or trends in state aid programs," Bishop said.

This augmented approach is particularly important when counties are examining major capital expenditures, she said. For example, infrequent but often costly investments might include a new jail, major road project or courthouse renovation.

Office of Local Government staff now are working to develop a similar, targeted financial trends report for Kansas' cities. (Due to a unified county-city governing structure, some communities within the greater Kansas City area may be excluded.) The staff's goal is to distribute a copy of this cities' report to each of the state's county seats next spring.

Free access to the Pottawatomie County Fiscal Conditions & Trends report is available online at the Office of Local Government's website: http://www.ksu-olg.info. More information about the Office of Local Government is also available online or by calling 785-532-2643.