Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How the Counties Spend Your Money, Part Two

Today, we examine total and per capita county spending in five categories: Executive and Legislative branches, Boards of Elections, Circuit Courts and State’s Attorneys.

In analyzing county spending on the Executive and Legislative branches, we should bear in mind that the counties have different forms of local government. Baltimore City has an elected Mayor and a City Council. Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Wicomico, Baltimore, Howard and Harford Counties have elected County Executives and County Councils. Dorchester and Talbot Counties have County Councils but no Executives; the councils appoint County Managers. The other counties have County Commissioners with less authority than those with councils.

Here is how the counties compare in spending on their Executive and Legislative bodies.

The highest-spending counties on Executive functions are Talbot ($13.79 per capita), Charles ($13.51) and Garrett ($12.17). All are rural counties in which the legislators appoint managers. It is quite possible that those managers perform functions that are delegated to department heads in bigger counties. Among counties with elected Executives, the biggest per capita spenders on that function are Anne Arundel ($11.08) and Harford ($8.41). Both of their County Executives are Republicans.

Worcester County is nominally the biggest spender on its Legislative branch ($18.91 per capita), but we believe that figure is inflated because it may include spending on the county’s appointed Chief Administrative Officer. Next in line are Prince George’s ($17.11), Howard ($12.05), Dorchester ($11.31) and Montgomery ($10.08), all of which have County Councils with full power of home rule. Baltimore City’s spending on its City Council ($7.62 per capita) is actually below the state average for local legislatures ($8.02).

Every county has a Board of Elections, Circuit Court and State’s Attorney. All serve vital functions in protecting citizen rights, but only to the extent that each is funded. Here is how the counties compare on that measure.

The leaders in per capita spending on the Board of Elections are Worcester ($15.18), Garrett ($14.17) and Dorchester ($12.60). Prince George’s County, a jurisdiction plagued by citizen distrust of its government, is next to last ($4.73). Baltimore City spends more on its Circuit Court ($26.37) than any jurisdiction except Worcester ($26.90). Does rural Worcester County really need to spend more on its court than crime-infested Baltimore? Baltimore City predictably spends more per capita on its State’s Attorney ($51.85) than anyone else. Montgomery ($13.42) is surprisingly next to last, surpassing only Baltimore County ($10.23).

We’ll have more tomorrow.