Census of Government Survey Important

(from Maine Townsman, October 2007)
by Jeff Austin, Legislative Advocate, MMA


The U.S. Census’ 2007 Survey of Local Government Finances will be mailed to all Maine local governments in mid-October and it is very important for municipal officials to complete this survey accurately. It appears that the survey has been incorrectly completed in previous years, causing an overstatement of Maine’s property taxes. Third parties such as the Tax Foundation use the Census-generated property tax figures when making their yearly “tax burden” rankings. That is why it is very important for Maine municipalities to complete this Census survey accurately.

Each year the Census conducts a representative sample survey of local government finances – both revenues and expenditures. Every five years (years ending in 2 and 7) the Census attempts to do a comprehensive survey of every unit of local government. Accordingly, 2007 is a comprehensive survey year.

The survey is approximately 21 pages long and will seek data for fiscal years that ended between July 2006 and July 2007 (e.g., CY 2006 or FY 2007). While most of the myriad data requests are straightforward and easy to complete, it appears from previous survey responses that three common problems have occurred in Maine.

Property Tax for Counties

The property taxes collected by municipalities and remitted to county governments should be entirely excluded from the municipal survey. It appears that many municipalities are including the county-portion of the property tax commitment in the municipal survey responses. This is a mistake.

The U.S. Census sends their Survey to all units of local government, including the counties. The counties provide their property tax revenues on their forms. So, if municipalities also include this revenue on the municipal forms, the county tax would be double-counted. It is widely believed that double counting of the county property tax has occurred in the past.

Property Tax for SADs and CSDs.

The property taxes collected by municipalities and remitted to School Administrative Districts (SADs) and Consolidated School Districts (CSDs) should be excluded for the same reason that the county tax is excluded. Namely, SADs and CSDs complete these Census surveys as well. So, if your municipality was a member of an SAD or CSD in 2006-2007, the property taxes for education should be excluded from the survey. This exclusion does not apply to municipalities with municipal school systems (e.g., school departments).

Motor Vehicle Excise Tax Revenues

Motor vehicle excise tax revenues should be included in the basic “property tax” revenue question (Part 2, Question 1). In the past, some municipalities have listed motor vehicle excise tax revenue in other parts of the survey. According to the U.S. Census, Maine’s motor vehicle excise tax is a property tax for purposes of this survey since the excise is levied in proportion to a vehicle’s value.

Additional Information

The U.S. Census has prepared supplementary instructions for Maine cities and towns. Those instructions and the survey form are available on MMA’s website (these will be posted to the MMA website: www.memun.org). Anyone with questions about the survey is encouraged to contact MMA’s Jeff Austin at jaustin@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786.