How do You Compare to Other Similar Sized Communities?
It’s a typical meeting night in rural America as the local City Council prepares to review the annual budget. As they review various line items, the group zeros in on employee compensation and benefits. After reviewing the numbers, to include another significant increase in health insurance premiums, one of the Council members asks, “How does that compare to other similar sized communities?”
The Council member goes on to say, “while we are on the topic of benefits, we have been discussing our turnover rate and our difficulty with hiring quality employees for months; how do we compare to other communities for total compensation and benefits?”
Have you been there? It is a common scenario for elected officials in rural areas. While the City may be doing a great job controlling expenses, given only the City’s current budget and year over year numbers as a baseline, it is nearly impossible for a local elected official to get a good feel for how the community is truly performing.
Enter Municipal Information Resource Group (MIRG). MIRG was created to help municipalities compare their financial data with comparable communities. MIRG was co-created by a former mayor who was frustrated that there was no way to find the financial information needed to make sound decisions. With MIRG, municipalities can understand exactly how they compare to comparable communities and better understand industry benchmarks for performance.
During his search for municipal data as Mayor, MIRG co-creator Neal Minor knew that the information he needed to make sound decisions was public, but he didn’t realize how difficult it would be to aggregate the data. When questions like this arise, often City Managers and Clerks are forced to send queries through email listserv or pick up the phone and contact other communities. While these methods are effective, they are certainly not efficient and do not provide the ability to compare data over a larger number of data points in real time.
One of the benefits MIRG offers clients is the ability to access real time data anytime, as needed. For example, if a city manager is in their office over the weekend preparing for an upcoming Council meeting and is anticipating certain questions from the Council, they can pull up MIRG and query the data. Or, if the technology is available in the Council Chambers, the City Manager can literally login to MIRG and query the data during the meeting for the Council as requested.
For example, if a Council is considering placing a sales tax initiative on an upcoming ballot and a question arises about comparable sales tax rates, the City Manager could display MIRG on the monitors in the Council Chambers and query the sales tax rates for specific comparable communities that the Council would like to see. Similar sized communities. Other communities in the immediate area etc.
Former Mayor Minor shares a discussion surrounding a 60-year-old pool in his community. The pool could no longer be fixed and needed to be replaced. The only way for the community to move forward with the replacement of the pool was to pass a ½ cent parks and rec sales tax. As you can imagine, there was some strong opposition in the community regarding taking on long term debt for a municipal pool.
Minor said that had something like MIRG existed at the time, he could have done the research to show the citizens that they were currently paying $76 per capita for parks and recreation. He could have then provided a list of 25 similar sized communities with the average spending $125 per capita for parks and recreation. He could then demonstrate that the City could easily pass the bond issue and still be well within the average spending for municipalities of their size.
In addition to being used by local government elected and appointed officials to compare financial benchmarks with those of similar sized communities, MIRG can also be used to identify best practices. End users are able to utilize resources efficiently and effectively, gain public trust and ultimately make better long-term, strategic decisions for their organizations.
MIRG is a subscription based or single-sale based online product that municipalities, economic developers, site selectors, utility providers, consultants and other government entities access to analyze, compare and contrast municipal financial data. For more information on MIRG, watch this short introductory video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz4Ho7k3AEY&t=319s
Corey J Mehaffy, Managing Partner
Comparative Municipal Data for Sound Decisions