A Texas company that compiles an annual ranking of local and regional governments’ financial management practices nationwide has included six Luzerne County bodies in its 2013 analysis, with Hazleton city its top performer in this area.
Austin-based Municipal Analysis Services, Inc. drew information from about 350 state and federal agencies to compare financial practices used by 6,314 counties and municipalities, president Greg Michels said.
“The result is an objective list of governments that are financially efficient with their citizens while being more financially stable,” Michels said.
Area entities reviewed by the firm this year, and their scores, were: Dallas Township (35), Wilkes-Barre city (37), Luzerne County (42), Kingston (46), Harveys Lake (50) and Hazleton (51) .
Hazleton Mayor Joe Yannuzzi said he had not heard of the study before, but was interested to hear about it.
A score over 61 is considered “high performance” status, Michels said.
He said a high score doesn’t necessarily mean a community is in good financial health, only that it is managing its available resources well. Likewise, a lower score doesn’t mean that a community is in poor financial health, only that it has “higher potential performance.”
Rating for 3 decades
Municipal Analysis Services, Inc. is a private company, and has been compiling the information yearly since 1983 for publication in a series of books. The key audience, Michels said, is insiders: mayors, city managers and others looking for a “road map” and benchmarks to better financial practices.
“If … there is consensus that there is room for improvement, you can then look at how communities in your size group throughout your state are doing,” he said.
Not everybody is listed — far from it. With the 350 state and federal agencies consulted by Municipal Analysis Services collecting data on some 97,000 entities, the company focuses only on a selection of communities for which a complete cross-section of categories is available.
The categories are mix of revenue sources, productivity, efficiency, revenue levels and debt control.
It has been a challenging year with taxes increasing in 15 of the 50 municipalities in Luzerne County that have a population of more than 2,000 people, according to a Times Leader review of millage rates.
In that light, Yannuzzi interpreted the study’s results much as Michels described: Despite challenges, he believes Hazleton has taken steps to manage its resources as well as possible, saying that raising taxes this year was painful but necessary.
Council in January adopted a budget that raised property taxes 45 percent, increased the earned income tax rate 4.4 percent, doubled the per capita tax from $5 to $10 and instituted an annual $50 stormwater fee. The $8.68 million budget was a compromise between Yannuzzi’s and council’s proposals.
In Kingston meanwhile, administrator Paul Keating in January acknowledged it had been a particularly challenging budget year due to a big drop in real estate transfer taxes that resulted from a decrease in home sales — a problem common to many communities.
Yet, in Kingston’s case, the municipality managed to avoid a tax increase — Keating attributed that to growth in earned income tax revenue as well as small savings in expenditures over the years “that help you compensate for these hurdles when you hit them.”
For more information on Municipal Analysis Services and its reports, see https://sites.google.com/site/gregmichels/home or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.