A Performance Rating for Virginia Local Governments

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Goochland County offers the most bang for the buck of the localities in the Richmond metropolitan region, according to a local government rating system devised by the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation.

The rating system compares fiscal indicators such as property tax rates and collections, per capita indebtedness, school spending per capita, and unfunded pension liabilities, as well as outcome metrics such as the clearance rate of crimes, fire department ratings, and Standards of Learning pass rates.

Mark E. Daugherty, former chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation and organizer of the rating system, presented the numbers for the Richmond region — plus the City of Norfolk for purposes of comparison to Richmond and Spotsylvania County for comparison to Richmond-area counties — to the Tuesday Morning Group, a monthly gathering of conservative and libertarian activists. The 20 counties and cities analyzed so far represent 23% of Virginia’s population. The group also has completed research on several Shenandoah County jurisdictions, and is now working on an analysis of Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

The purpose of collecting the statistics, says Daugherty, is to arm citizens and elected officials with data to stimulate questions and new ideas on how local governments and schools can improve performance. (Read more about the initiative here.)

Bacon’s bottom line: The Tea Party data represents a starting point for evaluating local government, not a finish line. Inevitably, the selection of one data set over another entails a value judgment and affects the ratings. Including other data sets would add more texture and context. But it’s a darn good start.

My sense from a brief conversation is that Daugherty acknowledges the difficulties that local governments and school systems are grappling with, especially urbanized cities with a large percentage of lower-income residents. Clearly, a down-in-the-dumps city such as Petersburg has much greater challenges than an affluent exurban county such as Goochland. Still, by highlighting Goochland, the rating system does suggest — not prove, just suggest — that Goochland is doing something right. Perhaps counties with comparable demographics and economic assets should take a look. After all, the purpose of the exercise is to stimulate questions and deeper analysis.

It would be easy for some to take issue with the methodology or criticize the source — ew, it’s the Tea Party! — but Daugherty and his colleagues have expended considerable effort without any overt agenda to identify and publish local government input and performance numbers, which is more than you can say for anyone else.

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3 responses to “A Performance Rating for Virginia Local Governments

  1. ew, it’s the Tea Party!

    — Wait, What!

    Perhaps you’d prefer a report from the new Democratic Party.

  2. Actually, their rating system looks pretty good. It objective in that it does use standard metrics compiled from authoritative sources.

    So I support it – hope they expand to other counties and do it every year so we can keep track.

    As a lot of these ratings are – they tend to be more snapshot than comprehensive such that comparisons between urban and rural might need to have a few other metrics. Most of these counties are relatively wealthy. It would be interesting to see some of the poorer counties represented.

    AAA ratings as pointed out in a previous blog – are not necessarily just on fiscal budget – points are awarded for the taxing capacity – i.e. is there sufficient wealth in the county to be taxed for more better services/infrastructure.

    A very well run county with very little fiscal capacity does not score well on the Bond ratings but they may still be well run – and this method of ranking would show that.

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