G.R.E.A.T. Sample Applications

Applications of the GREAT Software             

By County Educators, Specialist, Local Officials  and Others

UW-Extension’s Local Government Center
Contact: Craig Maher or Steve Deller   

City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

The city of Milwaukee uses GREAT for the following purposes:

  • Benchmarking the cost of City of Milwaukee services on a per capita basis, compared with other large Wisconsin communities.
  • Comparisons of the relative importance of shared revenue to the general fund budgets of large Wisconsin communities.
  • Comparisons of Milwaukee’s per capita tax base with those of other large Wisconsin communities.
  • Comparisons of Milwaukee’s per capita tax levies with those of other large Wisconsin communities.

Milwaukee uses these comparisons as arbitration exhibits as part the of collective bargaining process, as references in Council Committee and town hall presentations, and as part of the city’s internal review process.

Town of Greenville, Outagamie County

Greenville is an urban town in Outagamie County (population > 10,000).  The town board chair compares Greenville with cities between 10-25,000 population, towns over 5,000 population, and villages over 2,500 population and with selected municipalities on a number of measures for the town board each year as a part of their budget process.   The measures used include:

  • Taxes: Local tax mill rate, per capita local tax, per capita general property tax (graph, bar chart and pie chart)
  • Growth Trends: Indices for classes of property value (i.e. residential value in Greenville increased 8x between 1990 and 2009), pie charts showing the composition of property value in 1992, 1999 and 2009 for Greenville.
  • Expenditures: Per capita graphs for law enforcement, fire protection, ambulance, general government, parks and recreation and debt service  and a comparative bar chart of expenditures.
  • Revenues: Comparative per capita revenues bar chart.

City of Wausau Parks Department, Marathon County

In 2003, the City of Wausau undertook a study of its parks and recreation program compared to nine benchmark cities.  Wausau used GREAT to identify comparable cities and ran their per capita “parks and recreation” expenditures with these identified peer cities.  The Parks Department conducted an inventory of their facilities and land, recreational opportunities and events, and urban forestry program with associated operational costs and fee revenues.   This data was used to develop an in depth survey for the peer cities.    Based on their findings, the Department made several recommendations regarding operations, fee structure, park acquisition, staffing, the use of contracted services, use of volunteers and cooperative activities with the school district.

City of Merrill, Lincoln County

In 2007 Art Lersch, County CNRED Educator in Lincoln County,  worked with the city administrator of Merrill to compile a comparative report of Merrill’s revenues, expenditures, property taxes and valuation relative to six other municipalities.  The comparable municipalities were selected on the basis of population size as peer communities.    In 2009, Art again worked with the city administrator and expanded the comparison study to include 17 other municipalities.  The comparison includes more per capita comparisons and wage data.

City of Oshkosh, Winnebago County – Consulting

Professor Karl Nollenberger, Department of Public Affairs at UW-Oshkosh, was asked by the Oshkosh City manager to do a 5-year analysis of the composition of Oshkosh expenditures and of its per capita expenditures compared to 15 other cities and an average of the selected cities.  Karl shared his excel spreadsheet and verbal analysis with the city manager.

UW-Oshkosh – Public Administration Program

For the graduate degree program in public administration, Professor Craig Maher of the Department of Public Affairs at UW-Oshkosh teaches a course in public finance where he requires his students to use the GREAT software.  The exercise requires graduate students to develop a memo to the board of a local government analyzing the government’s financial condition as part of its preparation of the annual budget.   Here are two examples of this work from graduate students Doug Tuenissen and Kurt Zempel:

Village of Oostburg, Sheboygan County

In anticipation of 2012 budget preparations for the Village of Oostburg, Doug Tuenissen drafted a memo to the village board looking at the composition of  Oostburg’s revenue, expenditure, and property values and trends in revenues and expenditures.  The analysis concludes with a comparison of the City of Brillion’s (Calumet County) revenues and expenditures to that of

City of Sheboygan, Sheboygan County

In anticipation of 2012 budget preparations for the City of Sheboygan, Kurt Zempel drafts a memo to the city council examining the composition of Sheboygan’s revenue, expenditure, and property values and includes an analysis of how this has changed over three selected years as well as how Sheboygan compares to an all city average.  The analysis also includes trend data, indices and per capita graphs for revenues and expenditures.

Academic Studies

Professor Steve Deller of the UW-Madison Agricultural Economics Department and  Professor Craig Maher of the UW-Oshkosh Department of Public Affairs have developed several studies examining local government responses to legislative restrictions on revenue increases, expenditure and taxation levels,  behaviors in response to changes in intergovernmental aid.

County Government Structure and Expenditure/Revenue Limits

The effects of tax and expenditure limitations (TELs) have been studied from a number of perspectives ranging from fiscal policy responses to government performance to economic performance. To a large extent the response of local governments to the imposition of a TEL is determined by local policy makers. Surprisingly, the role of organizational structure of local governments on how policy makers respond to TELs has not been widely examined. This study works toward filling that gap by examining the effect of county government structure on property tax burdens before and after the imposition of a property tax levy limit, a specific form of TEL in Wisconsin. The results demonstrate that government structure has a more profound effect on property tax burdens following the TEL. Specifically, counties with elected executives had lower tax burdens, particularly following the TEL, whereas counties with a hired administrator had higher tax burdens following the TEL.

Local Government Performance and Property Values

This study offers a practical measure of local government effectiveness in the provision of public services relating to services expenditures to aggregate property value.  Using data for Wisconsin municipalities, the study demonstrates that service expenditure levels and taxation levels are suboptimal and should be increased.

Intergovernmental Aid and Local Revenues

This study examines whether local government officials treat intergovernmental aid differently during periods of aid certainty and uncertainty. The authors find evidence of fiscal replacement for 94% of Wisconsin municipalities and fiscal inducement for only a small handful of municipalities. The lower the dependency on shared revenues, the higher the odds that the municipality will replace lost shared revenues with own source revenues.

Measuring Municipal Fiscal Condition

This study looks at the extent to which self reported measures of fiscal condition are consistent with commonly identified measures of fiscal condition using secondary financial data. While the field of government finance has amassed a lengthy list of research on fiscal condition and fiscal stress assessment, there remains a gap in the research on the extent to which practitioners’ perceptions of fiscal stress are consistent with such measures.  Findings indicate that there is limited evidence of a relationship between self-reported and objective measures of fiscal condition.

Mapping with GREAT

Matt Kures, GIS Specialist in UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development, loaded the GREAT database into mapping software that displays any of the data on a per capita base for a selected year or the percentage change between two selected years on a statewide basis.   How this appeared on the Local Government website is shown below.

Property Tax Simulation

Dave Neuendorf, former CNRED educator in Dodge County, developed an excel model that used the data from GREAT to demonstrate the relationships between tax levy, base and rate.   This is the basic portion of the excel model and is shown in the first set of instructions and excel spreadsheet below. Using increases in property values over time, this excel model depicts the wealth component of property value relative to the property tax.  The second set of instructions and excel spreadsheet, titled the intermediate simulation, is shown below.  This program appeared on the GREAT CD from 2007-2010, but was then removed due to decreases in property value as a result of the declines in the housing market.

Collaboration Study

Baker Tilly (formerly Virchow Krause) used the GREAT database in some of its tables for the Local Government Institute of Wisconsin’s study, “A Roadmap for Government Transformation.”   The use of GREAT data was minimal in providing some per capita service costs and percent increases.   While perhaps not exemplary in how the data can be used, this study is an extensive review of local government collaborations, factors that most affect success, case examples based on surveys of local officials, focus groups and more detailed fiscal analysis.

  A Roadmap for Government Transformation

Sample Report:  Town of Sampson

Andrew Dane, former CNRED educator for Chippewa and Barron Counties, periodically developed a report for the Town of Sampson in Chippewa County that compared the town to two other Chippewa County towns with respect to property tax, valuation, expenditures and income.   This report informed the basis of his presentation at the 2006 JCEP conference with Sarah Burgert regarding the use and functionality of the GREAT software.

Sample Reports:  Badgerville

Kate Lawton, Local Government Specialist at UW-Extension’s Local Government Center, developed sample reports for the 2008 Finance and Budget Workshop for town and village officials.  This presentation consisted of going through the functions of the software with local officials using participant’s local governments as examples.  Kate used the presentation as an opportunity to teach local officials what questions to ask, how to read different graphs, and general rules of analysis.  Part of the materials included sample reports for participant use and later reference.  Sample reports included a review of expenditures, revenues and the property tax for towns, cities, villages, and counties.  The latter report was updated in 2010 for the Public Finance In-service.

City of Galesville in Trempealeau County: Use of Sample Property Tax Report

Pat Malone, the Trempealeau County CNRED educator, developed property tax and value information for the City of Galesville using the sample property tax report developed by Kate Lawton.

Lincoln County

In 2006 Art Lersch, County CNRED Educator in Lincoln County,  worked with the county government to compile a comparative report of Lincoln County’s revenues, expenditures, property taxes and valuation relative to four other counties comparable in size, attributes and income.

Village of Gilman, Taylor County

In 2011, Arlen Albrecht, County CNRED Educator in Taylor County, worked with the village president to develop a presentation that compared the Village of Gilman to other area and comparably sized villages in the level of property taxes and values as well as revenue base and expenditures.

City of LaCrosse Housing Study, Taylor County

In 2010, Karl Green, the LaCrosse County CNRED Educator developed a study and report titled: Challenging Trends Facing Housing in La Crosse that relied on the property value and tax information in GREAT.  The city’s planning director stated, “Among other findings, this seminal report noted that the City of La Crosse has 7,000 housing units with an assessed value of less than $100,000 and 14% of these are valued between $30,000 and $50,000. The report accurately depicts the depth of the City’s challenging housing tax base and its implication for vital public services.”  Karl’s work led to the development of a Housing Task Force, which will look at among other issues, university housing stock and options.

County Officials Workshops (2012)

Kate Lawton of the UW-Extension Local Government Center developed two summary bar charts of statewide average revenues and expenditures for three years:  1987, 1998, 2009.

By Kate Lawton, Local Government Specialist