The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) is now offering CGR Govistics site visitors free access to spending, revenue, employment and payroll data for 3,000+ counties and 50 states across the U.S. You can also download the data to Excel spreadsheets. Previously, you had to subscribe to CGR Govistics to browse state and county data.

To view, compare, download and map trends with U.S. Census of Governments data for all 54,000 local governments and school districts also in the database, you can subscribe for as little as .99 cents. CGR has also made numerous improvements to the Govistics interface, making it simpler to use and easier to navigate.

CGR Govistics is the only place on the web where you can quickly and effortlessly explore U.S. Census of Governments data. Trend lines, pie charts, customizable comparisons, and spreadsheet downloads make CGR Govistics ideal for any citizen, government official, or researcher. The database has more than a decade’s worth of data for use in mapping historical trends.

Highlights:

  • CGR unlocked spending, revenue, employment and payroll data for 3,000+counties and all 50 states on Govistics.com
  • Subscriptions cost .99 cents and allow access to 54,000 local governments and school districts
  • The CGR Govistics interface is now even easier to navigate

The new interface is cleaner and easier to understand.

...You can also browse county- and state-level data for free. This includes Govistics' customizable comparisons, Excel spreadsheet downloads, and more than a decade's worth of data for historic trends.

 

If you haven’t yet, check out the database at www.govistics.com. For more on CGR, visit www.cgr.org. CGR is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to improve government and school district efficiency and effectiveness.

Govistics fans, rejoice! And those of you who haven’t signed up yet, you now have a laundry list of reasons to change your minds. :)

As of last week, Govistics’ tech and data master, Mike Silva, has officially upgraded the database with the following improvements:

  • FBI Unified Crime Reports data for all municipalities reporting public safety information to the FBI
  • A new year of spending, revenue, and employment data for municipalities
  • Total payroll dollar figures (great to compare with employment counts) for municipalities

The database will also be more user-friendly, as what formerly took the form of “elevator buttons” to scroll through menu options have been replaced with drop-down menus. We made that change based on user feedback, so please be in touch with us by email at support@govistics.com or info@govistics.com with questions or concerns.

Also, did we mention that you can now access all county data (every county in the U.S.A.!) at the Pro-level for free? We hope that you’ll test-drive the database at the county level, see how valuable Govistics can be for your research, and stick with us.

Keep in touch with Govistics on Twitter and Facebook for more updates and relevant news headlines, and thanks for checking in!

Govistics now offers FBI Unified Crime Reports data...

...and payroll dollar figures for most municipalities.

 

Occasionally we get asked “aren’t you selling free data?” That’s what any database is, really—a compilation of independent resources in a more usable form. Govistics is based on the U.S. Census of Governments, and while some data from CoG is freely available to the public, little is available in a form you’d actually want to use! The Census Bureau currently only offers access to state aggregated spending, and users can only view top-level spending and revenue categories. Users must also access each year’s data individually.

Govistics’ interface builds on the Census of Governments, providing users with a visual research experience to help contextualize data they can actually use. Govistics users can view detailed spending and revenue breakouts across more than 30 subcategories, tracking spending for their individual communities, not just a state aggregated total. Govistics also compiles a decade of Census of Governments data so that researchers can quickly analyze historical trends to project future spending and revenue levels. In addition to these customizable visualizations, Govistics allows users to download a spreadsheet for use with statistical and other analysis packages.

So if you get excited about trawling through text and .pdf files of data from the Census, don’t let us stop you! But at Govistics, we think your time is worth more than that, which is why we created the web’s most comprehensive public finance database.

Don't get buried in PDFs and spreadsheets. Use Govistics instead!

The Census of Governments survey is sent to every government and governmental entity in the United States. This survey asks each government or entity about its spending, revenue, and employment. It’s important to note that the Census collapses data by its definition of a “place,” so if your community contains independent agencies (e.g. municipal corporations) that are in charge of typical government functions, those agencies’ expenditures, revenues, and employment will be included in the totals for your community. The Census structures the survey by “function,” not by agency, so that different governmental structures across county and state lines can be compared. In 2007, 98% of governmental entities responded to the survey, making the Census an important and accurate fiscal portrayal of all governments across the U.S.

The Center for Governmental Research is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research organization based in Upstate NY. We do a lot of work in government efficiency and benchmarking, and one of our clients requested a study of economic competitiveness across their region. This involved pulling together a lot of public finance data, and we used the Census of Governments to build a custom interface for that region.

But we realized that our client’s situation wasn’t unique, and the product we developed for their region could be applied in, essentially, any and all communities spanning the United States. In July of 2010, we decided to go national with our data, because every taxpayer and government official can benefit from being able to track, compare, and contextualize public finance data. Today, Govistics is used by academic researchers, public officials, journalists, business leaders, and taxpayers to get detailed visualizations of public finance data that aren’t found anywhere else.

Right now we’re working with higher education institutions and local governments in areas across the country, helping them to harness the analytic power of Govistics and apply it to their every day research and public finance enlightenment.We’re also working on really souping up this database — we’re adding crime statistics, for instance, and we’re attempting to make it easier and easier to navigate the site.

CGR is in the business of public sector research, so we enjoy drilling down into great detail when looking at public budgets and other data. We also understand that trying to track public money in motion can be a pretty murky business. So Govistics offers you all the detail you need, but in a format that’s simplified and easy-to-understand. Stay tuned for more posts about our origins and our future developments. It’s a critical juncture in our shared history as a nation – there may never have been a more important time to start really paying attention to local government finance.

Let’s say you’re a journalism student, and you are interested in the Bell, CA scandal over public employee compensation. Where would you go to follow up on the story and investigate spending on compensation across the country? Most sources would only let you compare Bell to other California cities—and in fact, those comparisons have already been done. But if you wanted to do an original analysis, you could turn to Govistics—the only source allowing you to accurately customize a spending comparison among governments nationwide. You can grab your cities and quick statistics to add to your story, and be on your way in less than five minutes.

Or perhaps you’re a government manager, and have been inspired by local or state-level encouragement of consolidation. You want to compare operating costs of metropolitan governments to separate city and county structures, and you want to look at these costs over a variety of areas—transportation, administration, social services, etc. Where could you find this information? You could look through a set of .pdfs, and painstakingly copy down figures from the tables made available by the Census of Governments (one year at a time), or you could use Govistics—same great data, but in a ready-to-use form with interactive graphics and customizable spreadsheets for download.

What if you’re a business leader trying to decide among a few location choices for your new headquarters? Where can you find government efficiency data for cities in multiple states that will give you an idea of current costs, and how those are likely to change in the future? With Govistics’ inclusion of a decade of historical data, it’s easy to make projections about future costs and revenue streams. You can see if the rate of increase in tax revenue is less than the rate of increase in spending, and make your relocation decision accordingly.

Maybe you’re a taxpayer fed up with the high tax rates in your city. You can get an instant comparison with up to 9 peer cities—so you can find cities that are like your city in terms of population, city size, and income, but with a lower government cost burden per resident. Use the trend tab to view the history of your chosen city’s spending—does it look like costs are increasing drastically, or has spending kept pace with inflation?

Govistics demystifies public finance research for all types of users. To learn more, check out our plans and pricing

The function of each level of government also varies quite a bit across states and regions. Here is a general overview of what you’ll find in Govistics:

Counties

As the first layer of general government below states, counties are usually responsible for implementing state requirements, either through their own actions or through the actions of dependent municipal governments. As mentioned previously, Connecticut and Rhode Island’s counties serve no governmental function. In other states, however, counties perform property assessments, keep personal and property records, oversee elections and judicial functions, and some aspects of social services (medical services, welfare, etc). Some counties provide utility services such as water supply or electric power, and others leave those duties to municipal corporations or private enterprise. In some states, counties are responsible for administering school districts, though many others leave those duties to municipal governments or independent districts. County governments are allowed to levy sales tax in about half of the states in the U.S., and few use an income tax as a source of revenue. The rest of a county’s revenue is made up by a combination of property tax, state aid, and federal assistance.

Municipal Governments

Municipal governments such as cities, towns (in some states), villages, consolidated city-county governments, and boroughs (except NY and AK), are responsible for general government of a population center, rather than of a land area. In general, municipal governments are subordinate to a county government, though some states (such as Virginia) have independently incorporated cities. Independently incorporated cities and consolidated city-county governments will take on the functions of county governments and municipal governments. Municipal governments’ typical responsibilities include public safety (police, fire, and other emergency services), financial duties (tax collection, audits), transportation, housing, judicial functions, public works, and parks and recreation.

Township Governments

Township governments perform similar duties to municipal governments, although their community needs may vary as townships are incorporated based on land area, not on population.

Special Districts

The only form of special district included in Govistics is a school district, which bears primary responsibility for public education. School districts may also be required to provide assistance for adult and vocational education as well as some aspects of private education (such as nurses or busing). Other forms of special districts include fire districts, ambulance districts, water authorities, electric authorities, and sewer authorities.

The Govistics team at CGR is excited to announce that we are currently beta-testing the incorporation of FBI Unified Crime Reports (UCR) data into our database. When we launch it live – which we’re excited to do! – you’ll see a “Crime” tab appear whenever you’re looking at a community for which UCR data are available.

From the FBI:  The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program was conceived in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to meet a need for reliable, uniform crime statistics for the nation. In 1930, the FBI was tasked with collecting, publishing, and archiving those statistics. Today, several annual statistical publications, such as the comprehensive Crime in the United States, are produced from data provided by nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States.

Govistics is already the most comprehensive public finance tool on the internet. Pretty soon, we’ll be the most comprehensive public finance and performance metrics tool. We’ll let you know when this goes live!

Some of our users have asked about the categorization of different governments and governmental entities. We’ll try to shed some light on what these names mean, and how to interpret them in Govistics.

Almost all U.S states are divided into large geographic areas called counties (“parishes” in Louisiana and “boroughs” in Alaska). Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia each contain some incorporated land area not contained within a county, which functions as a county in Govistics as a primary division of a state. Connecticut and Rhode Island no longer use counties in their governance structure and so they are not presented as separate governments in Govistics. You will see a county name in the URL when accessing a sub-county place (e.g. township or city) but this is historical context only.

Govistics organizes all sub-county governments into three categories: municipal governments, township governments, and school systems:

Municipal governments include cities, boroughs (except in Alaska and New York), and towns (except in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin), and consolidated city-county governments, with naming distinctions based primarily on population.

Township governments are general-purpose governments established without regard for population concentration, called towns in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin, and townships in the rest of the U.S.

School systems include combined elementary-secondary systems, elementary only systems, secondary only systems, non-operating school systems (taxing districts which collect revenue on behalf of other school systems), and vocational or special education systems. Govistics lists all school systems independently (e.g. Philadelphia City School District), and if they are under city/county/local government control, they will also be incorporated with the relevant government (e.g. Boston, MA).

Govistics is proud to announce its new demo tool, which allows non-subscribers to test out all the functionality of the database for a single community. This month’s community is Harrisburg, PA, the state’s capital. Harrisburg has been in the news for financial uncertainty, and the city council recently rejected a state-backed plan to restore solvency.

So what can you do with the demo? You can track and compare ten years of spending, revenue, and employment, drilling down to hot topics like police spending and state aid. You can download a customized spreadsheet of detailed spending, revenue, or employment data to use in your own analysis, or play with the pie, trend, and bar chart tools built in to Govistics. You can also customize the peer selection, benchmarking the city’s finances against any other government in the country.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the demo tool—where should we shine the Govistics spotlight next?