Most citizens rely on local governments to provide primary and secondary education, police protection, recreation facilities, transport, infrastructure, public sanitation and evolving opportunities. Therefore, a good local government should ensure optimum supply of public goods. Public goods are goods with benefits that are nonrival and nonexclusive in consumption. Such goods are financed by taxes levied on local residents. This paper will analyze the allocation of public goods and services in the County of Waukesha, Wisconsin from 2016 to 2018.
Goals and Priorities of Waukesha County
The leadership and residents of Waukesha County envisage a County that is well managed, safe, secure, and with good infrastructure. In orders to realize these goals, a huge sum of the Countys revenue is allocated to public safety, public works department and general government. Table 1, below, displays Waukesha County expenditures from 2016 to 2018. Public safety expenditure is the highest in the County followed by public works and general government expenditures. Each of the goals is evaluated as follows:
Safe and Secure County
Waukesha County first priority is safe and secure County. In 2018, public safety expenditure was the highest and it accounted for 40.3 percent of total expenditures. Public safety expenditure is also increasing from $1.38 million in 2016 to $1.42 million in 2018. It includes police, building inspections, fire, and emergency expenses.
To ensure vibrant neighborhoods and business areas, the police are involved in community service programs. The police and community are jointly addressing crime and safety issues with the aim of providing solutions. Research findings indicate that a partnership between the police and the public reduces crime rates significantly. The goal of the fire department is to reduce the time taken from dispatch to arrival when responding to fire emergencies. The county also seeks to increase the number of people participating in fire prevention programs by 10 percent. Overall, community service and fire prevention programs will prevent and mitigate unsafe conditions in Waukesha County.
Waukesha County is investing heavily on infrastructure. Infrastructure is a broad term and it refers to the countys transportation, water, sewage and communication systems. Public safety department is responsible for maintaining the Countys infrastructure in good working condition. In 2018, public works expenditure represented 23.4 percent ($0.82 million) of the total expenditures. Public works allocation has also increased significantly over the years from $0.43 million in 2016 to $0.82 million in 2018.Good infrastructure will promote economic growth in Waukesha County and result in high standards of living.
Well Managed County
The Countys leadership is continuously seeking efficient and cost effective ways of providing goods and services. The county is also developing sound fiscal policy practices that will ensure public resources are managed effectively. In 2018, general government expenditure accounted for 19.5 percent ($0.69 million) of total expenditures. It is also fluctuating sharply. From 2016 to 2017, it increased from $0.68 million to $0.70 million. In 2018, it declined by $0.02 million to $0.68 million. General government expenses includes municipal court, community development, city council, human resources, and assessors office, mayors office, and city administrator. A well-managed county will ensure that the residents get high quality services at low cost.
Waukesha County Expenditures, 2016 2018
Health and Human Services
Culture, Recreation & Education
Source: Village of Summit, Waukesha County, Wisconsin
Internal and External Challenges
Waukesha County government may not fully meet the needs residents because of budgetary constraints. The local government expenditures is continuously increasing while sources of revenue are limited. So, high property tax and current economic conditions pose serious challenges to the County.
Property tax is the leading source of revenue in Waukesha County. It accounts for approximately 50 percent of the total government budget. The residents consider it burdensome because it is higher than necessary. It is an internal challenge because high property taxes discourages potential new residents and businesses. Also, the State of Wisconsin has imposed property tax caps. Property tax caps limits the amount of taxes the County can collect from both real and private property.
The current unfavorable economic conditions may negatively affect the Countys revenue sources and increase government expenditure. It is an external challenge because tough economic times is associated with high unemployment rates and reduced wages. High unemployment increases the demand for public goods. It also results in budget deficits and cuts. In order for the county to balance its budget, it may cut basic programs like public safety and health services. Reduced public safety expenditure may lead to increased crime rates.
Budget Stabilization Measures
Waukesha County has come up with various measures to stabilize its budget. First, the county has an effective tax rate that stabilize the budget. Tax rate indicates the percentage of taxable income. In case of a deficit, the county increases its tax rate to bring the budget back to balance.
Secondly, the county is developing a strong financial policy that will reduce tax evasion and promote equitable taxation. All residents of the county are required to pay taxes. However, some people fail to pay taxes and the County authority cannot trace them. The County has set up a strong tax system that will reduce cases of tax evasion. In addition, the tax system will ensure equitable taxation. Residents will pay taxes based on their income. It means that residents with high income will have a higher tax burden compared to residents with low income. An effective tax system will stabilize the budget against revenue fluctuations caused by tax evasion.
Third and lastly, Waukesha County has a general fund (rainy day fund). The rainy day fund is filled up with surplus revenue. By the end of 2017, general fund balance was $0.77 million. The optimum amount to be maintained in this fund is still debatable. These funds are important because it caters for unexpected expenditures and provides stability to Waukesha County budget. It also mitigates the severity of economic fluctuations.
To ensure consistent provision of goods and services, Waukesha County should focus on revenue sources that are consistent. User charges is the most consistent source of revenue. In 2018, it represented approximately 13 percent ($0.46 million) of the total revenue. To increase user charges revenue, the county should consider privatizing most of the government services. Those services include recreational facilities, roads, bridges, and university education. Consistent funds will ensure the government meet its obligations to the people.
Waukesha County should also focus on development projects. Currently, the budget focuses on public safety which is a recurrent expenditure. The county stands to benefits in the future if they will focus on development projects such as environmental conservation. Developmental projects can also act as sources on income for the County.
Like all local governments, Waukesha County strives to meet the basic needs of its citizens. From 2016 to 2018, the county has focused on public safety, good infrastructure and effective management of the county. In the future, the county should consider privatizing some of its services to raise revenue.
Hyman, D. N. (2014). Public Finance: A Contemporary Application of Theory to Policy. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Village of Summit, Waukesha County, Wisconsin Official Website of the Village of Summit. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://summitvillage.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-Adopted-Operating-Budget.pdf
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