RURAL COUNTY FINANCE: USER FEE IMPLEMENTATION AND RELIANCE 1977-2002
Gerber, Johnathan L.
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This study examined rural counties and their equivalents in the United States. In particular, this study focused on rural county budgeting, with an emphasis on the implementation of user fees. This research area has not been frequently studied prior to this. A mixed methods approach was used in this study. Census of Government data from 1977 through 2002 was used for the quantitative portion. Only counties with a population less than 50,000 were examined for this study. Counties with a population less than 20,000 were also broken out and examined as a subpopulation for analysis. Specific emphasis was placed on whether user fees increased over time, if they increased when other traditional forms of revenue decreased, in response to fiscal stress, etc. In addition, case studies were performed on six rural counties to further explore their user fee implementation and responses to fiscal stress. Fiscal stress was found to be endemic among rural counties. The rural counties' quantitative data exhibited large amounts of variation for both the rural population as a whole, as well as the subpopulation studied. A strong correlation was found between the following variables: total revenue and total expenditure; total revenue own sources and total expenditures; total revenue own sources and property tax; total expenditure and property tax; and total revenue own sources and user fees. A medium to weak correlation was found between the following variables: total expenditure and user fees; property tax and user fees; total intergovernmental revenue and user fees; total intergovernmental revenue and total revenue own sources. No correlation was found between fiscal stress and property tax or between fiscal stress and user fees. The counties selected for the case studies were in different states, from multiple geographical regions in the United States and had varying political affiliations. Despite these differences, the case studies yielded some significant similarities across the rural counties studied. The counties had lower levels of educational attainment, high levels of poverty and unemployment. They dealt with these challenges with differing fiscal and budgetary strategies. Both case study and quantitative data yielded substantial variation.