County Spending Goes Up

Kansas State University Research and Extension’s Office of Local Government has released the 2002 Situation and Trends reports for each Kansas county. (Population of Riley County appeared in last weeks Free Press)

Ranking counties against statewide averages, the reports highlight the direction of the county by using long-term economic and social health indicators. The information outlined in the report includes county’s population, income, economy, housing, household composition, education, health, social environment, public finance and agriculture, said Janet Griesel, an Extension associate at K-State.

"The information was originally produced for Extension agents to use with program planning," Griesel said. "Now, we feel the audience is much wider."

The data can assist local officials making decisions, community organizations applying for grants or citizens curious about changes in their counties, Griesel said.

The last edition was released in 1999. Designed for readers to evaluate their county’s current situation and performance over time, the 2002 edition incorporates data from Census 2000 and a variety of other sources.

"We tried to condense a large quantity of data into a limited number of easy to understand indicators " she said. "Our goal was to make the information as user-friendly as possible "

Booklets for each Kansas county are available at county Extension offices. Downloadable formats of the complete reports are posted on the Direct Resource Referral Service website at

Public Finance For Riley County

County governments in Kansas finance a range of important public services. Examples include law enforcement, road and bridge maintenance, and economic development. Governments finance these and other services with revenues from a range of sources including locally imposed taxes such as the property or sales tax, transfers from the state or federal government, and user charges.

Decisions by both individuals and businesses about whether to locate in an area are often related to the quality and quantity of services provided by local government and how much they must pay for them through taxes, user charges, and other means. Generally, individuals and businesses are assumed to prefer locations with lower taxes, but they may not if higher taxes finance more or higher quality public services of value to them.

Demographic, economic, and social trends affect local financial condition. A growing population, for example, may result in an increase in county revenue but may also place greater demands on local government.

The revenue and expenditure data presented is from the Kansas Fiscal Database. The Office of Local Government developed this database to help local officials better understand their county’s financial situation. The database contains detailed financial information drawn from county budgets for all Kansas counties. The database contains actual, rather than budgeted numbers and includes 33 categories of expenditures and 20 of revenues. For additional information about Riley County’s financial situation, see the Fiscal Conditions and Trends report produced by the Office of Local Government.

Revenues can be considered a measure of the monetary resources available to the county to carry out its responsibilities. Revenues have generally increased over the past decade. The composition of revenues, however, has shifted somewhat in many counties as general dissatisfaction with the property tax combined, in many cases, with declines in population, income, property values, retail sales, or state and federal funding has forced many counties to seek alternate sources of revenue and limit spending. Property taxes, retail sales taxes, and special highway funds from the state remain the major revenue sources for the majority of Kansas counties.

The average Kansas county collected $807 in revenues per person in 1999. This represented an 11.2% increase from 1995. Per capita revenues in Riley County grew 51.8% over the same period to $471 (Figure 14). Large percent changes may result from an unusual circumstance in the years used to calculate the percentage (1995 and 1999). A bond issue is one example.

Expenditures are a measure of the overall responsibility of county government. In general, this responsibility has increased over the past decade in response to changes in economic conditions, state and federal mandates, and local needs and preferences. The shift to greater county responsibility has proven particularly challenging for the many counties where population, property values, and state and federal funding have remained constant or declined over time.

Kansas counties provide a range of public services. Three major functional expenditure categories in most Kansas counties are general government, road and bridge, and law enforcement. In general, the share of total county expenditures devoted to the three traditional expenditure categories has steadily declined in recent years while "other expenditure categories have grown as a proportion of total expenditures.

Over the past decade, several expenditure areas have experienced particularly strong growth. Public safety-related expenditures (sheriff, jail and corrections, juvenile justice, and district courts), for example, grew strongly through the 1990s in most Kansas counties. This may reflect both growing public concern about crime and safety and new state and federal mandates. Similarly, health and related expenditures (county health department, ambulance, emergency 911 service, services for the aged, and hospital) showed strong growth in many counties, likely reflecting efforts to maintain quality health care as the state’s population ages. County solid waste expenditures also experienced strong growth, due primarily to legislative changes at the state and federal level.

Expenditure levels may differ across counties because of differences in services provided and wealth. There may also be economies of scale involved in the provision of some public services. For example, it may cost the same amount for both a sparsely and heavily populated county to maintain its roads and bridges though the sparsely populated county has fewer people over which to spread this expense. Expenditures may vary over time for a number of other reasons including legislative changes, one-time capital investments, and changes in local accounting practices.

The average Kansas county spent $804 per person in 1999, an increase of 15.4% from 1995. Per capita expenditures in Riley County grew 69.7% to $479 over the same period (Figure 14). Recall that large percentage changes from 1995 to 1999 may be the result of an unusual circumstance in either year, such as the start or completion of a large capital project.

Though declining in importance, the property tax remains the major source of tax revenue for most Kansas counties. Thus, trends in the assessed valuation of property can significantly impact county revenues. Declining property values push tax rates up and force counties to either find alternate revenue sources or cut spending. Changes in population, local economic conditions, and state mandates may affect local property values.

The assessed value of property in Kansas totaled nearly $19 billion in 1999, an increase of 14.2% from 1995. The average Kansas county experienced growth of 5.2% over the same period and had an assessed valuation of $179.4 million in 1999. Riley County’s assessed valuation grew 15.1% from $190.3 million in 1995 to $219.1 million in 1999.

Fiscal capacity and effort are performance. They are particularly valuable for evaluating revenue sources within the county's control. Here we present fiscal capacity and effort measures for the most important revenue source for most county governments in Kansas - the property tax.

Fiscal capacity is a measure of a county’s ability to raise revenues from a given source, such as property taxes. As such, fiscal capacity for a given county is the total amount of tax revenue that would result from applying the average Kansas county’s tax rate to the county’s tax base. To compare across counties, we divide the county’s capacity per capita by the average Kansas county’s capacity per capita. This results in an index around 100, where 100 represents the average Kansas county. A fiscal capacity above 100 indicates a county has a greater ability to raise revenues from a given source than the average Kansas county. The opposite is true for a value below 100.

Fiscal effort compares a county’s fiscal capacity with its actual revenue collections and indicates how intensively a county is taxing its available revenue base. By expending more effort (e.g., increasing the rate at which local taxes are levied or reducing the proportion of the tax base that is exempt from taxation) counties may raise more revenue than their capacity. Similarly, by expending less effort, counties may raise less revenue than their capacity. As above, an index around 100 is used to make comparisons across counties. A value below 100 indicates the county has lower tax rates and/or allows more tax exemptions than the average county. The opposite is true for a value above 100.

High fiscal capacity combined with low fiscal effort is generally considered the most desirable situation for county governments. Greater fiscal capacity indicates that a county has greater "wealth" to draw upon and allows it more flexibility in structuring its revenue mix. A low fiscal effort suggests a county has untapped ability to raise new revenue if needed, but could also point to an over dependence on other revenue sources. The opposite situation, low fiscal capacity and high fiscal effort, typically signals a county is experiencing fiscal stress.

Property tax capacity reflects the county’s relative assessed valuation per person. In 1999, Riley County had a fiscal capacity of 33, indicating that its per capita assessed valuation was 33% of that in the average Kansas county. This represented an increase of 22.2% from 27 in 1995. The average Kansas county experienced 4.7% growth over the same period.

Property tax effort reflects the county’s relative property tax rate. Riley County’s fiscal effort was 73 in 1999. This indicates the county raised 73% of its property tax capacity by taxing its available property tax base at a lower rate than the average Kansas county. Fiscal effort in Riley County fell 5.2% from 77 in 1995. Over the same period, the average Kansas county experienced an increase of 0.3%.