Monday, December 20, 2010

Tracking local government in metro Milwaukee

For years, the Public Policy Forum has urged local governments to use performance measurement as a means of tracking progress toward strategic objectives and educating constituents about the outcomes associated with various government services and expenditures. Today, as government budgets grow tighter and taxpayer tolerance for spending money on all but the most essential services diminishes, it would appear that use of this tool is a necessity.

In keeping with that sentiment, the Forum has released its inaugural Tracking Local Government report. The report – made possible by a grant from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation – should be viewed as a resource both for the ordinary citizen to use in understanding the breadth and effectiveness of local government services, and as a potential model for local governments to consider in determining the types of information they should be collecting and sharing with constituents.

The 47-page report identifies 25 local government or government-funded services in nine functional categories that are considered critical to the metro area’s economy and quality of life. For each set of services, the report tracks fiscal and performance data over a five-year period to provide readers with a sense of revenue and expenditure levels, as well as a sense of what taxpayers are getting for their money. The report also provides brief analysis and observations regarding why the services are important, data trends, and future implications associated with those trends.

Performance measurement has been used increasingly by all levels of government since the early 1990s to better manage programs and services and communicate results to stakeholders and constituents. Unfortunately, not all government entities and departments in our metro area do an adequate job collecting performance data, and even those that adequately collect it often do not share it with policymakers and citizens.

The Tracking Local Government report is an effort to compile such data – to the extent it is readily available – in an easily understandable format in one place. In addition to informing citizens, the Forum’s objective is to “encourage those agencies that are not engaged in an appropriate level of performance measurement to improve their efforts."

The inaugural Tracking Local Government report is considered a work in progress. Time and data limitations required us to focus exclusively on Milwaukee County, City of Milwaukee and other Milwaukee-based governmental entities, as opposed to looking at government services within other Milwaukee County municipalities or other southeast Wisconsin counties. We hope to expand the project in the future to include a broader perspective.

The full report can be accessed here.

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