New DLS dashboard


I get newsletters from the Division of Local Services (DLS) that are often interesting.  Today’s one has a link to a new state DOR dashboard where we can compare Medfield to other towns.  When you try it out, be sure to check the 351 compare box to get the data point for all the cities and towns.  I wish they stated a preferred data point for each of their metrics.

Interesting point learned today:  Cambridge has a budget of about $600m., and they have reserves of 30% (i.e. – about $200m. banked).

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DLS

DLS Unveils the Municipal Finance Trend Dashboard
Sean Cronin – Senior Deputy Commissioner for Local Services

I’m pleased to announce that for the first time, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is offering a comprehensive Municipal Finance Trend Dashboard currently available on the Division of Local Services (DLS) website! Governor Baker highlighted this initiative at the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s (MMA) Annual Meeting on January 19th and I now welcome the opportunity to provide additional information here.

The dashboard is comprised of key municipal fiscal health indicators based upon data that is part of required municipal submissions to DLS, annual financial statements, state agency databases, and the US Census. It graphically displays trends in revenues and expenditures, municipal operating positions, demographic information, unfunded liabilities, property taxes, Proposition 2 ½ data, and debt. These municipal fiscal health indicators are displayed through dashboard data compiled over multiple fiscal years. Within each dashboard panel, we also identify the source for the live data point such as the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC) and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented.

The Municipal Finance Dashboard offers a wide array of metrics broken down by subject that can be viewed both at the individual community level and on a state-wide basis. They include:

  • Operating Position – Trends in certified free cash, stabilization fund balances, overlay reserves, general fund unassigned fund balances and outstanding receivables
  • Unfunded Liabilities – Trends in pension liabilities, OPEB liabilities and fund balances for those municipalities that are self-insured for health insurance
  • Property Taxes – Trends in average single family tax bills, new growth, levies, assessed values, excess and override capacity and Proposition 2½ ballot questions
  • General Fund Revenues and Expenditures – Trends in general fund revenues and expenditures
  • Demographics – Trends in labor, income, population and equalized property valuations (EQVs)
  • Debt – Trends in outstanding debt, debt service, bond ratings, and authorized but unissued debt

Below are a few example graphs from the dashboard:

For decades, the Municipal Databank has served as an invaluable resource for local and state officials, professional associations, academic institutions, bond rating agencies, advocacy organizations, think tanks, the media, and interested taxpayers for research, analysis, and policy development. We are now leveraging that resource to provide those same stakeholders a clearer portrayal of the fiscal health of all of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns. Whether it’s a finance director meeting with the finance committee, a member of the board of selectman referencing statewide trends, or the general public looking to learn more about certain financial metrics for their community, we think the information contained in the dashboard can serve innumerable purposes. To see how it could best suit your needs, we highly encourage you to take our Municipal Finance Trend Dashboard for a test drive.

The new dashboard makes it easier to get the information that you need. No longer will you need to pull down multiple spreadsheets, combine different datasets, and create charts and graphs. For these key metrics, that is done for you. (However, if you want the data for all 351 municipalities over multiple years, you can still download that. So no fears for those who like the raw data!) This is also a great transparency tool and hopefully helps simplify the analysis that goes into determining the fiscal health of a community.

I want to thank the entire DLS team for their hard work identifying the metrics, building the dashboard, and retrieving the data. As we move forward, we will provide updates and pursue additional metrics and variables, so if you have any feedback, please let us know by emailing me at croninse@dor.state.ma.us. We hope you enjoy and utilize the dashboard!

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