MMA Fiscal Survey
(from Maine Townsman, January 2001)
by Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA

As of January 2001, 216 municipalities had returned the 2000 MMA Fiscal Survey. While we are pleased with this initial response rate of 44% of all municipalities, more work needs to be done. MMA is hoping to make this survey data more comprehensive than ever before. Our goal is to get fiscal data from all 493 municipalities.

The format of the fiscal survey is different this year. We tried to make the survey more user-friendly and less burdensome to fill out by pre-entering the information that could be obtained from other sources.

Much of the revenue section data was obtained from state agency sources. We used the 1998 Municipal Valuation Statistical Return to gather municipal commitment, state valuation and mill rate information. We also were able to get homestead exemption, revenue sharing and GPA information from state agencies.

This new approach enables us to publish a final report that contains a summary page for each municipality in the state. The extent to which the survey results accurately depict a community's financial picture is determined by the amount of information provided by that municipality.

For the most part, the feedback we received on the new format has been positive. Our intent was to develop a survey that was easy to complete and at the same time gathered the information necessary to make apples-to-apples comparisons between municipalities. For example, in the expenditures section of the fiscal survey, we asked respondents to list their contracted expenditures separately from the municipal services expenditure. We believe that when looking at particular expenditures, being able to differentiate between municipal and contracted services will enable municipal officials to make more accurate comparisons.

All municipalities, whether they completed the survey or not, will receive a copy of the report, which will be published in a three-ring binder. The summary page for each municipality is two-sided with revenue data on the front and expenditure data on the back. The published report is very much like the survey instrument itself and each summary page can be photocopied, corrected (or completed) and returned to MMA for inclusion in updated editions.

Using a loose-leaf format will allow us to do regular, periodic updating. Once you get the report, please check over the data to make sure it is accurate. If it is not accurate, or you did not have time to complete the survey earlier, please correct (or complete) and return it to us.

Spreadsheet type fiscal information will be also be made available on MMA's web site or can be provided on a diskette. Information on how to access and use these alternative electronic formats will be provided in the published report as well as on our web site. You can expect to receive the 2000 Fiscal Survey report in mid-February. 

Although 216 municipalities returned their surveys, in order to meet the TOWNSMAN's publishing deadline we were only able to include data from 107 of the municipalities in this preliminary analysis. The data provided is based on a municipality's most recently completed fiscal year, as of Ju1y 1, 2000. For most communities, the ending date of the fiscal year covered in the survey will be December 31, 1999 or June 30, 2000.

Based on the information provided by these municipalities, the following preliminary fiscal data analyses are based on the municipality's size and geographic location. Please note that the information and data provided below is preliminary. The results are based only on the 107 responses that were available for analysis. When the data from all the surveys has been analyzed, there is a strong probability that the averages will change.

As illustrated by the data in Figure 1, in all population categories, locally generated revenues (e.g. property tax, excise tax, interest on unpaid taxes, license and permits and services charges, etc.) account for more that one-half of the General Fund revenues generated by local, state and federal sources combined. In the state's largest communities, local sources accounted for over 70% of the total revenue raised through local, state, and federal sources. The percentage of total state subsidies (e.g. homestead exemption, revenue sharing, local road assistance, etc.) ranged from a low of 28% in the state's larger municipalities to 47% in the state's less populated communities. Revenues generated by federal sources were relatively consistent throughout the state, generating no more that 2% of a community's local, state and federal tax mix revenue.

Fig 1 - Table - Average General Fund Revenues by Popul Group

As shown in Figure 2, it comes as no surprise that all municipalities expended over 50% of General Fund revenues on education. In municipalities with populations greater than 3,500, on average an additional 25% was spend on public works and public safety, leaving only 25% of General Fund revenues to fund general administration, code enforcement, General Assistance, parks and recreation, libraries, county taxes and debt services. Interestingly, municipalities with populations between 2,000 and 3,499 spent an additional 20% on public works and code enforcement and health and human services (e.g. General Assistance) related expenditures. In municipalities with populations less than 2,000, an additional 28% in General Fund revenues was spent on public works and general administration expenditures.

Fig 2 - Table - Average General Fund Expendit by Popul Group

Geographic Location
In order to make geographic comparisons, municipalities were placed in a category based on the location of their county. The northern region encompasses the municipalities located in Aroostook, Piscataquis and Penobscot counties. The southern region consists of the municipalities located in York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties. The western region is made up of the communities located in Oxford and Franklin Counties. Towns and cities in Washington and Hancock make up the eastern region. The central region consists of the municipalities in Kennebec, Somerset and Waldo counties. The coastal region consists of Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.

Fig 3 Table - Average General Fund Revenues by Location

When examining General Fund revenue generation based on geographic location, we found that locally generated revenue in the coastal and western regions of Maine accounted for 82% and 73%, respectively, of the total General Fund revenues generated by local, state and federal resources. The revenue generated by local sources is greater than 50% in all other regions of the state. As was the case when making comparisons based on population, the federal sources accounted for no more than 2% of the total local, state and federal revenue mix. The state portion of the General Fund revenue mix was highest in municipalities located in northern and central Maine.

As illustrated in Figure 4, in the northern, southern, eastern, central and coastal regions of the state, nearly 80% of General Fund revenues were used to fund education, public works and public safety services. In the eastern part of the state, nearly 80% of the General Fund revenue was used to fund education, public works operation and debt service. In each region of the state, however, funding for education was the largest expenditure.

Fig 4 table - Average General Fund Expenditures by Location

The data presented in this article is an example of the information that will be available once the final report is published. You can expect to see more detailed information and data in the published report. We plan to run additional articles in the TOWNSMAN this year analyzing the fiscal survey data.

Also, since we have changed the format for presenting the data, two additional alternatives will be available. First, staff at the Maine Municipal Association will be available to run individualized reports for municipalities. Second, spreadsheet type information will be made available, enabling any municipal official to manipulate the data and make comparisons as necessary.

MMA will accept fiscal surveys for the 2000 report (fiscal years ending June 30, 2000 or December 31, 1999) until July 1, 2001. In July, MMA will mail new fiscal surveys for the 2001 Fiscal Survey Report (fiscal years ending June 30, 2001 and December 31, 2001).

Thank you to all the municipal officials who returned the 2000 Fiscal Survey. We hope that change in both the survey tool and report make the process easier and more useful to you. If you have any questions or comments on the survey tool or the report, please do not hesitate to contact Kate Dufour at 1-800-452-8785.