Accessing government data can be extremely difficult. It's not only challenging to find the right reports, but parsing through data and trying to make sense of it can be an incredibly daunting task.
That’s what makes the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s new MuniTool so helpful. The free, online tool compiles data from municipalities throughout Wisconsin, allowing users to compare and contrast key information about spending, property taxes, income, and population for 601 cities and villages in Wisconsin.
“We really see this tool as a starting point where you can start to investigate some trends,” says Ari Brown, a data and research analyst for the Forum. "One, it provides some insight right off the bat, and two, we hope it will just provoke conversations that will over time improve the governance and improve the life in the communities of our state.”
There are some limitations to the tool, according to Jason Stein, the research director for the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
"One bit of caution in comparing communities: this tool is accurately reporting what the municipality reported to the state," says Stein. He explains that not every community reports spending in the same way. So although two communities may spend similar amounts on something like their police department, one might report some of that spending in their operating budget instead of their basic spending budget.
Still, Stein says the tool does allow people to explore answers to questions like, "How does my community stack up compared to the rest of the county, or to other municipalities that have similar populations?”