Apples, Oranges, and the County Snapshot
By: Pete Obermueller, WCCA Executive Director
If I had a nickel for every time a legislator, journalist, or LSO staffer asked me for spending or revenue data for all 23 counties...well, you know the saying. The trouble is not the question. A reasonable person could assume that such data is easy to find for a statewide association like the WCCA. And in truth, finding data is not that difficult. Each county is required to keep a detailed budget and to audit their finances every fiscal year. In addition, the Wyoming Department of Audit (DOA) creates a “Cost of Government” report each year. If you’d like to see it, go grab your magnifying glass first and then click here. No, the trouble is not absence of data, but absence of usable data for decision-making purposes.
Data on government revenue and expenses should exist for two reasons. First and foremost, so citizens can keep track of how their money is collected and spent. But government budget data should not create only passive numbers to view and otherwise put on a shelf. It should be usable for high-level policy decisions as well. For counties, understanding their own budgets in relation to similarly situated counties is helpful. For state legislatures, the ability to draw accurate conclusions on state-wide programs that operate in 23 very different counties is critical. To accomplish the kind of comparisons necessary for policy decisions requires something different than what is currently available on county revenue and expenses.
With this in mind we created the County Snapshot, which is now available here at the WCCA website and on the WCCA’s Dropbox account. The Snapshot is not a financial document...it is a policy document. You will see right away the visual comparisons between counties on major factors that affect county revenue and expenses. You can also see rankings of counties’ major sources of revenue and how that compares to the current distribution of funds from the legislature. The major sources of revenue and expenditures at the bottom are intended to attached dollar figures to just a few broad, relatively uniform categories so that policy-makers can get a high-level sense of how a county is doing in comparison to others.
The Snapshot is a living document. Almost every line on every county page has a story. For example, take a look at Sublette County’s road and bridge expenditures. We will be constantly updating, correcting, and improving the Snapshot as data is further culled to ensure that categories of expenses contain the same items from county to county. Do not hesitate to call us anytime with comments, corrections, or suggestions. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy flipping through this book, as there is a wealth of data to be analyzed here.