From Staff Reports
According to a new Free Enterprise Forum report, while the City of Charlottesville spends the most per capita ($4,631.05), Nelson County and Albemarle County had the highest 2019 Local Government Spending Index (LGSI) rates. Greene County had the lowest LGSI.
The biennial “Choices and Decisions” report is based on an independent locality-specific Local Government Spending Index (LGSI). The inflation adjusted report, which studied 20 fiscal years (1998-2018), establishes a benchmark for each locality dependent on their spending levels at the start of the study.
Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “For over a decade, our LGSI research has informed the debate and promoted dialog about local government spending. The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions. Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the elections and budget season”.
The LGSI is based on self-reported data required to be provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts. The numbers focus exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. This number will not include capital expenditures thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.
It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment. While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:
Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 72% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 33% and 19% respectively.
City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1998-2008), Charlottesville experienced a population increase of over 26%, the second smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative growth in school enrollment of under 4%. In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased over 56% during the study period.
It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities.
In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities.
During the study period, three localities had roughly 25% increase in per capita spending, while two, Albemarle and Nelson, increased per capita spending by over 31%.