Questions Lead to Local Government Spending Top 10 List

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Since the recent release of the 2013 “Choices and Decisions” report, some are asking particularly insightful questions.

In the original coverage of the report by Aaron Richardson of The Daily Progress, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos was quoted asking “I would want to know how Charlottesville would compare to other cities because cities across the state have lost state funding and have had to make up for that locally.”

What a great question.

To be ultimately successful true questioning must be seeking answers not seeking to reaffirm preconceived notions.  A good friend of mine once wrote a small poem inspired,  in part, by The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda.  In his poem, my friend asked:

When is it appropriate

A ripe moment for a fertile question

A season ready for asking

When will I know

The question posed by the Vice Mayor arrived serendipitously at a “ripe moment for a fertile question”

While the Local Government Spending Index is revenue blind (it does not care where the funds originate), the concept of where do the localities stand compared to other localities in the Commonwealth in terms of per capita spending is clearly worthy of additional research.

Prompted by this insightful inquiry, we went again to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts and used self reported numbers for 2012 population and 2012 operating spending.  We divided the operating spending by the population and found that Charlottesville is the second highest locality in spending per capita in the state ($4,753).  The City of Falls Church is first with 12,567 residents and per capita spending of $5,201.74.

Here are the top 10 Per Capita Operating Spending Virginia Cities for FY2012

No. Population City  Per Capita Operating Spending
1             12,567 Falls Church  $    5,201.74
2             44,471 Charlottesville  $    4,753.14
3               4,099 Norton  $    4,382.08
4               5,946 Emporia  $    4,292.19
5             22,866 Fairfax  $    4,222.00
6           143,464 Alexandria  $    4,208.72
7               7,125 Galax  $    4,177.23
8           206,238 Richmond  $    4,152.88
9               8,680 Franklin  $    4,066.59
10             13,902 Martinsville  $    3,888.28

The highest spending County per capita in 2012 is Arlington with $4,635.86.  Albemarle County placed 16 out of 95 counties at $2,859.93.

Here are the top 20 Virginia Counties based on 2012 Per Capita Spending

No. Population County  Per Capita Operating Spending
1         214,373 Arlington  $    4,635.86
2      1,096,023 Fairfax  $    3,949.75
3             6,968 Surry  $    3,793.25
4         324,337 Loudoun  $    3,687.85
5             4,797 Bath  $    3,584.31
6           15,762 Dickenson  $    3,419.29
7             2,295 Highland  $    3,383.26
8           24,006 Buchanan  $    3,232.55
9           65,780 Fauquier  $    3,225.24
10         414,531 Prince William  $    3,201.28
11           16,180 Alleghany  $    3,195.71
12           12,433 Northampton  $    3,180.13
13           65,973 York  $    3,073.07
14           29,014 Russell  $    2,929.59
15             7,410 Rappahannock  $    2,876.77
16         100,780 Albemarle  $    2,859.93
17           12,565 Charlotte  $    2,856.39
18         131,067 Stafford  $    2,836.41
19           68,874 James City  $    2,803.87
20             7,049 King & Queen  $    2,796.49

The full chart of all Virginia localities can be accessed here

Examining the data found that the City of Fairfax, the City of Richmond and the City of Alexandria all had significantly lower per capita spending numbers than Charlottesville (<$500).  This line of questioning led to another question, how does density relate to per capita spending.

Absent complete density data readily available, we did a spot check of the City of Alexandria with a population of over 143,000 and a density of 9,314 residents per square mile (compared to Charlottesville’s 4,393/per sq mi).  The City of Alexandria ranks sixth on the “City” per capita spending list and spent $544.42 LESS than Charlottesville per capita in FY2012.

Thus anecdotally, we did not find causality between density and spending.  This will be an area for additional statewide research. 

The Free Enterprise Forum sincerely appreciates questions regarding our research.  We seek to develop objective metrics that help citizens evaluate their local government.  When we start such a journey, we do not know where the questions will lead.  As my friend pointed out in the concluding verse of his questions poem:

What potential might be revealed

When I ask the question

Where will it end

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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