State Websites Offer Fiscal Data on Local Governments

Practices and platforms vary, but dashboards provide insight and enhance transparency

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State Websites Offer Fiscal Data on Local Governments
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Most states require local governments to submit financial data—typically on an annual basis—and at least 38 now present that local fiscal data on easily accessible online platforms to give the public access to important information on their cities, towns, and counties.

The various state websites, which promote transparency by allowing a glimpse into local government finances, offer a range of features. Some enable users to compare localities, for example, while others let people create graphic visualizations of historical trends on local taxes and spending.

Among the states with such dashboards, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington provide assessments of local governments’ fiscal health using financial indicators or overall scores to bring additional insights. For example:

  • The Office of the New York State Comptroller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System includes fiscal scores for local governments for at least the previous three years that shed light on each entity’s finances. The scores represent composite measures based on indicators in categories such as year-end fund balance, operating deficits, and cash position. Based on the scores, the comptroller’s office identifies the local governments susceptible to or already under fiscal stress. Users can view each indicator over time and make comparisons among localities within the state.
  • The Michigan Department of Treasury’s Community Financial Dashboard calculates a set of fiscal indicators, including the strength of a local government’s savings and the size of its unfunded pension liability. To provide context, the dashboard ranks each municipality’s performance against other governments of the same type.

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In particularly challenging times, when revenue is volatile and priorities may need to be reassessed, it is important that lawmakers manage budgets effectively to mitigate fiscal stress.

In another approach, Louisiana maintains a list of “fiscally distressed municipalities” that its legislative auditor’s office reports may not be able to continue to provide basic services to residents in the near future because of financial issues.

Previous research by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that states that monitor the fiscal health of local governments may be better prepared to address financial problems before they become unmanageable. Having the information readily available to the public improves transparency and accountability.

Publishing local fiscal data online can help to elevate discourse on budgets and local priorities by making the information easily accessible. But that benefit often can be reduced by what can be considerable time lags in posting data.

For example, the steep and sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fiscal stability of cities and counties likely will not show up on these websites for at least a year. Still, the data do provide valuable information on the situation that local governments were in as they headed into the 2020 recession and can help states understand which localities might be particularly vulnerable to fiscal problems.

Table 1 provides links to the local fiscal data webpages for each of the states that now maintain such sites.

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Table 1

Data Dashboards Offer Glimpse into Fiscal Health of Local Governments

Platforms, presentation, and analysis vary by state
State Website Managing entity Municipality County Special district
Alaska Financials (Community Status Report) * Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development
Arizona Arizona Financial Transparency Portal General Accounting Office
Arkansas Legislative Audits Legislative audit
California Local Government Financial Data State controller
California Local Government High-Risk Dashboard State auditor
Colorado Local Government Financial Dashboard Department of Local Affairs
Colorado Active Colorado Local Government Finances Department of Local Affairs
Connecticut Municipal Benchmarking Application Office of Policy & Management
Connecticut Municipal Fiscal Indicators Office of Policy & Management
Florida Local Government Financial Reporting Chief financial officer
Florida Auditor General Reports Auditor general
Georgia Tax and Expenditure Data Center The Georgia General Assembly in partnership with Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia
Illinois Local Government Warehouse State comptroller
Indiana Report Builder: Annual Financial Report State of Indiana in partnership with Indiana University's Indiana Business Research Center
Iowa Adopted City Budget Documents Department of Management
Iowa County Budgets & Annual Financial Reports Department of Management
Kansas Municipal Audits Department of Administration
Louisiana Local Government Financials Legislative auditor
Maine Annual Audit Reports Office of State Auditor
Maryland Local Government Budgets State archives
Massachusetts Community Comparison Report Department of Revenue, Division of Local Services
Massachusetts Municipal Finance Trend Dashboard Department of Revenue, Division of Local Services
Michigan Community Financial Dashboard Department of Treasury
Minnesota Comparison Tools Office of State Auditor
Mississippi Audit Reports Office of State Auditor
Missouri Political Subdivision Financial Reports Office of State Auditor
Montana Local Government Annual Summarized Financial Information Department of Administration
Nebraska Audit Data Query Auditor of Public Accounts
New Jersey Data Book Rutgers University, Center for Government Services
New York Fiscal Stress Monitoring System State comptroller
North Carolina County and Municipal Fiscal Analysis Department of State Treasurer
Ohio Financial Health Indicators Auditor of State
Ohio Ohio Checkbook Treasurer
Oklahoma Local Government Audits Office of the State Auditor and Inspector, Oklahoma State Auditor
Oregon Local Government Audit Report Search Secretary of State
Pennsylvania Municipal Statistics Department of Community & Economic Development
Rhode Island Municipal Transparency Portal Department of Revenue, Division of Municipal Finance
South Carolina Local Government Finance Report Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Office
South Dakota Reports Department of Legislative Audit
Tennessee Local Government Audit Comptroller of the Treasury
Texas Transparency: Local Government Comptroller of Public Accounts
Utah Local and State Government Reports Office of the State Auditor
Virginia Commonwealth Data Point Local Government Data Auditor of Public Accounts
Virginia Local Government Reports Auditor of Public Accounts
Washington Local Government Financial Reporting System Office of State Auditor
Washington Local Government Financial Intelligence Tool Office of State Auditor
Wisconsin Local Government Dashboard Department of Revenue

Note: States that do fiscal health assessments provide financial indicators or overall scores to help users understand local governments’ fiscal health.

* For Alaska, boroughs are county equivalents.

† Participating state agencies include the Department of Local Government Finance, the State Board of Accounts, the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, the Indiana Gaming Commission and the State Auditor.

‡ This data is publicly available but users must create an account to access it.

Jeff Chapman is a director and Katy Ascanio is an associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health project.

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