1992 Census of Governments Methodology
(Adapted by JABG Technical Support Center staff from U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992 Census of Governments, GC92(4)-5, Government Finances, Vol. 4, No. 5, Compendium of Government Finances, pp. vii to xxi. Nonsubstantive adaptations have been made by the JABG Technical Support Center staff).
A census of governments is taken by the U.S. Bureau of the Census at 5-year intervals as required by law under Title 13, United States Code, Section 161. The 1992 census, similar to those taken since 1957, covers four major subject fields--government organization, taxable property values, public employment, and government finances. Data from the 1997 census are expected to be released in 1999.
Types of Governmental Units Covered in the 1992 Census of Governments
There were 85,006 governmental units canvassed in the finance phase of the 1992 Census of Governments. In addition to the Federal government and 50 state governments, there were 84,955 units of local government. Of these 38,978 are general-purpose local governments--3,043 county governments, 19,279 municipal governments, and 16,656 township governments. Only these general-purpose local governments are eligible for grants under JABG. The remainder of the local governments canvassed, more than one half of the total number, are limited-purpose local governments, including 14,422 school district governments and 31,555 special district governments.
The following paragraphs summarize the characteristics for each of the five major types of local governments. See the report Government Organization Volume 1, No. 1, 1992 Census of Governments for further information on governmental structure, including state-by-state descriptions.
County Governments -- Eligible for JABG Grants
Organized county governments are found throughout the nation except for Connecticut, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, and limited portions of other states where certain county areas lack a distinct county government. In Louisiana, the county governments are officially designated as "parish" governments, and in Alaska the "borough" governments resemble county governments in other states. Both are classified as county governments for Census statistics on governments. Not all geographic areas known as counties have county governments. Where municipal and county governments have been consolidated, or substantially merged, the composite units are classed as municipalities for the Bureau of the Census reporting of governmental statistics. Moreover, the cities of Baltimore and St. Louis are outside the areas of the adjacent counties of Baltimore and St. Louis, and a similar situation exist among 41 independent cities in Virginia. See County-type Areas Without County Governments for a listing of county-type areas without county government and independent cities.
Municipal Governments -- Eligible for JABG Grants
As defined for census statistics on governments, municipal governments are political subdivisions within which a municipal corporation has been established to provide general local government for a specific population concentration in a defined area. This includes all active governmental units officially designated as cities, boroughs (except in Alaska), towns (except in the six New England states, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin), and villages. In Alaska, the term "borough" corresponds to units classed as county governments. In New England, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin, the term "town" refers to an area subdivision which may be legally termed a municipal corporation and have a similar governmental organization but has no necessary relationship to a concentration of population, and thus corresponds to the term "township" in other states.
Township Governments -- Eligible for JABG Grants
Township governments exist to serve inhabitants of areas defined without regard to population concentrations, as distinguished from municipal governments which are created to serve specific population concentrations. The term is applied here to organized governments in 20 states. This category includes government units officially designated as: "towns" in the six New England states, New York, and Wisconsin; some "plantations" in Maine; some "locations" in New Hampshire; and governments called townships in other areas. In Minnesota the terms "town" and "township" are used interchangeably with reference to township governments. Although townships in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are legally termed "municipal corporations, " they have no necessary relation to concentration of population and are thus treated for census purposes as township governments.
Excluded from this category of township governments are unorganized township areas, townships coextensive with cities where the city governments have absorbed the township functions, and townships known to have ceased performing governmental functions.
Special District Governments -- Not Eligible for JABG Grants
Special district governments are independent, limited-purpose local governmental units that exist as separate legal entities with substantial administrative and fiscal independence from general purpose governments. As defined for census purposes, the term "special district government" excludes school district governments, counties, municipalities, and townships.
Special district governments provide specific services that are not being supplied by existing governments. Most perform a single function, but in some instances their enabling legislation allows them to provide several, usually related, types of services. The services provided by these districts range from such basic social needs as hospitals and fire protection to the less conspicuous tasks of mosquito abatement and upkeep of cemeteries.
The Census Bureau classification of special districts covers a wide variety of entities, most of which are officially called districts or authorities. Not all public agencies so termed, however, represent separate governmental units. Many organizations that carry the designation district or authority are by law so closely related to county, municipal, township, or state governments that they are regarded for Census Bureau reporting purposes as subordinate or component agencies of those governments rather than as distinct special district governments.
In order to be classified as a special district government rather than a subordinate agency, an entity must possess three attributes--existence as an organized entity, governmental character, and substantial autonomy. Volume 1, No. 1 of U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992 Census of Governments, GC92(1)-1, Government Organization provides an explanation of how these criteria were applied, as well as a summary description in each state of legally authorized special district governments. That report also lists in each state various statutory authorities, commissions, corporations, and other forms or organizations that have certain governmental characteristics but are subject by law to administrative or financial control by the state or by independent local governments and are, therefore, classified as subordinate agencies of such governments.
Special districts rarely perform justice functions. Those that do are usually transit or water authorities, or park or conservation districts. Some special districts have special police forces that report crime statistics to the Uniform Crime Reporting program, usually in very low numbers. UCR data for those special police forces were assigned to the county or a nearby municipal government. See Special district and independent school districts reporting UCR data for details.
Independent School District Governments -- Not Eligible for JABG Grants
Of the 15,834 public school systems in the United States, only the 14,423 that are independent school districts are included in the count of governments. The other 1,412 "dependent" public school systems are classified as agencies of other governments--state, county, municipal, or township--and are not counted as separate governments.
Like special districts, independent school districts rarely perform justice functions. Some independent school districts have special police forces that report crime statistics to the Uniform Crime Reporting program, usually in very low numbers. UCR data for those special police forces were assigned to the county or a nearby municipal government. See Special district and independent school districts reporting UCR data for details.
Fiscal Years Covered
The 1992 Census of Governments data pertain to government fiscal years that ended between July 1, 1991, and June 30, 1992. The following governments are exceptions but are included: ending September 30, the Federal Government, the state governments of Alabama and Michigan, the District of Columbia and Alabama school districts; and ending August 31, the state government of Texas and Texas school districts. New York State ends its fiscal year on March 31 and beside those already mentioned, is the only other exception to the June 30 ending for state governments.
Not all agencies of a government necessarily have a fiscal period that coincides with the central organization. Totals for an individual government, in those instances, are the summation of finances for all agencies with a fiscal period ending between July 1, 1991, and June 30, 1992.
Sources of Local Government Expenditure Data
General purpose governments
This survey assembled information for all of the 3,043 county, 19,279 municipal, and 16,656 township governments which were in existence in fiscal 1991-92. The initial data collection phase used three methods to obtain data: mail canvass, field compilation, and centralized collection from state sources. The mail canvass involved the use of detailed census schedules with related reporting instructions. Census examiners reviewed the mail reports intensively and used extensive correspondence to supplement and verify incomplete and questionable information. In significant cases, in which returns of acceptable data could not be obtained by mail canvass or from available published sources, census enumerators visited local government offices to obtain the basic statistics or important missing information. There were two aspects of field compilations. Initial plans entailed the use of trained census representatives to compile data for the largest and most important county and municipal governments--generally those counties with a population of 500,000 or more and municipalities with a population of 300,000 or more. A considerable portion of this work required on-site access to records. The second part of field compilation was an attempt to resolve important questions that arose during the course of the survey by having the trained agents review source material in the local government offices.
A central data collection system existed for county, municipal, or township governments in the following states:
The methodology used in each instance and the extent of the available data varied widely. As with mail canvass questionnaires, the basic financial data sometimes needed supplementation for such items as debt, assets, particular functional expenditures, or revenue items. Census staff obtained these supplementary data from special tabulations in other state offices, printed reports, secondary sources, or supplemental mailings directly to the local governments. To view a listing of state contacts, see Contact Information for the Census Bureau Central Data Collection System. Copies of all questionnaires used are available from JRSA.
Limitations of Data
For counties, municipalities, and townships for which the 1992 Census obtained no data, the following imputation procedure was used: Census staff searched through past data (the 1987 Census of Governments and the 1988-1991 Annual Surveys of Local Governments) to find the most recent response from the nonresponding government. The prior year response was updated to 1992 using average growth rates established from responding units that were from the same state, type of government, and similar size stratum as the nonresponding government. For governments for which no prior year data were available, Census staff randomly selected a government in the same state, type of government, and size class and multiplied its per capita data by the nonrespondent's population to get data for the nonrespondent. However, for criminal justice purposes, this resulted in about 200 to 300 localities now known to have police protection functions and reporting Uniform Crime Reporting data without imputed data -- presumably because the government selected for data to be imputed did not have a criminal justice function. The response rate for counties was 80 percent; for municipalities and townships, 90 percent; for special districts, 80 percent; and for schools, 100 percent. See Listing of Localities with Imputed Data to download a listing of localities using imputed data.
Individuals desiring more detailed information about the precise application of this methodology should contact the Governments Division, U.S. Bureau of the Census.
Mail Canvass Forms and Data Classification for Municipalities and Townships
The survey employed a variety of mail canvass forms that yielded two different levels of detail for municipalities and townships. The most detailed form (F-21A) applied to municipalities and townships with a population of 5,000 or more--approximately 1,100 municipalities and 300 townships. These types of governments with less than 5,000 population received form (F-22), a less detailed form. The abridged questionnaire for smaller units produced some limits on the exactness of certain data items.
A major mitigating effect on the reduction of detail in small mail units is the central data collection effort. Almost all the central data collection systems have information at the level of the most detailed mail collection form regardless of the size of the governmental unit. In Wisconsin, for example, more than 97 percent of the 1,266 townships have populations below 5,000. However, the central data collection system provides data for the smallest Wisconsin townships at the same level of detail as any municipality township that received form F-21A.
All schedules -- mail canvass, those compiled by Census-trained enumerators from official sources, field enumerated, and centrally collected -- were examined for evidence of completeness, internal consistency, and a reasonable relation to figures reported for earlier periods. In addition to the manual review, a computerized edit checked for impossible or improbable entries and identified in detail the differences with prior data.
These procedures applied to the 1992 Census of Governments were designed to achieve a high standard of completeness and accuracy. Undoubtedly, however, some mistakes and inconsistencies of official reporting, or of Census Bureau handling of particular items, have escaped detection. Please inform the Governments Division, U.S. Bureau of the Census, if the data reveal potential problems.
The 1990 Census of Population and Housing (April 1, 1990) provided all population data on the 1992 Census of Governments data files.
1992 Census of Governments Definitions of Selected Terms
(The following was excerpted from 1992 Census of Governments, Compendium of Government Finances, pp. vii to xxi and Appendix A. Nonsubstantive adaptations have been made by the JABG Technical Support Center staff, and nonrelevant definitions have been deleted.)
Government function definitions
Government Functions -- Public purposes served by governmental activities (For example, police protection, judicial and legal, corrections, education, highways, public welfare). Expenditure for each function includes amounts for all types of expenditure serving the purpose concerned.
Police Protection -- Preservation of law and order and traffic safety. Includes police patrols and communications, crime prevention activities, detention and custody of persons awaiting trial, traffic safety, and vehicular inspection. Private security police are outside the scope of the Census.
Judicial and Legal -- Courts and activities associated with courts including law libraries, prosecutorial and defendant programs, probate functions, and juries.
Correction -- Confinement and correction of adults and minors convicted of offenses against the law, and pardon, probation, and parole activities. Includes local jails where some inmates may be awaiting trial or sentencing.
Expenditure concepts and definitions
The Census of Governments uses a number of terms that, in other contexts, might have different meanings, or terms and concepts that are not commonly used or easily understood.
The expenditure reporting categories comprise all amounts of money paid out by a government and its agencies, with the exception of amounts for debt retirement, and for loan, investment, agency, and private trust transactions. Note that expenditures include payments from all sources and funds, including amounts spent from borrowing and from previous period balances, as well as from current revenues. Included in this category are expenditures of business-type government corporations and agencies. Transactions not considered as expenditures include payments for debt retirement, extension of loans, purchase of securities, and payments to the Federal Government of monies withheld for income tax or Social Security (OASDHI) purposes.
Expenditures for specific functions do not include any amounts for debt service costs. Interest payments on debt are not classified under particular functions for which debt may have been incurred, but rather are shown in the single interest category.
The commonly used character and object (or use) categories this finance series employs are: intergovernmental expenditure, current operation, capital outlay, assistance and subsidies, interest on debt, insurance benefits and repayments, and salaries and wages.
Expenditure -- All amounts of money paid out by a government--net of recoveries and other correcting transactions--other than for retirement of debt, investment in securities, extension of credit, or as agency transactions. Note that expenditure includes only external transactions of a government and excludes noncash transactions such as the provision of perquisites or other payments in kind.
Direct Current Operating Expenditure -- Only expenditure type used in the JABG computations -- Payments to employees (salaries and wages), suppliers, contractors, beneficiaries, and other final recipients of government payment -- i.e., all expenditure other than Capital Outlay and Intergovernmental Expenditure.
Salaries and Wages -- Amount expended for compensation of employees. Payments consist of gross amounts paid to government employees before deductions for income tax, retirement contributions, charges for quarters or subsistence, or other purposes. They comprise only cash payments and exclude the value of subsistence, quarters, or other payments in kind made to military personnel or other public employees. Salaries and wages are mainly for current operation but also include some amounts for force-account construction.
Capital Outlay -- Not used in JABG computations -- Direct expenditure for contract or force account construction of buildings, roads, and other improvements, and purchase of equipment, land, and existing structures. Includes amounts for additions, replacements, and major alterations to fixed works and structures. However, expenditure for repairs to such works and structures is classified as current operating expenditure.
Construction -- Production of fixed works and structures, additions, replacements, and major alterations, including planning and design of specific projects, site improvements, and provision of equipment and facilities that are integral parts of a structure. Includes contract construction, undertaken on a contract basis of private contractors, and force account construction, undertaken with direct use of material and labor by the government. None of the Capital Outlay expenditure data are used in JABG computations.
Equipment -- Apparatus, furnishings, motor vehicles, office machines, and the like having an expected life of more than 5 years. Equipment expenditure consists only of amounts for purchase of equipment, including both additional equipment and replacements. Expenditures for facilities that are integral parts of structures are classified as expenditure for construction or for purchase of land and existing structures. None of the Capital Outlay expenditure data are used in JABG computations.
Purchase of Land and Existing Structures -- Purchase of these assets as such, purchase of rights-of-way, and title search and similar activity associated with the purchase transactions. None of the Capital Outlay expenditure data are used in JABG computations.
Intergovernmental Expenditure -- Not used in JABG computations -- Amounts paid to another government as fiscal aid in the form of shared revenues and grants-in-aid, as reimbursement for performance of general government functions and specific services for the paying government (e.g., care of prisoners or contractual research), or in lieu of taxes. Excludes amounts paid to another government for sale of property, commodities, and utility services. Intergovernmental expenditure data are not used in JABG computations.
Type of local government definitions
See main text for more detail on types of local government.
County Governments -- Eligible for JABG award -- Organized local governments authorized in state constitutions and statutes and established to provide general government; includes those governments designated as counties, parishes in Louisiana, and boroughs in Alaska.
Municipal Governments -- Eligible for JABG awards -- Organized local governments authorized in state constitutions and statutes and established to provide government for a specific concentration of population in a defined area; includes those governments designated as cities, villages, boroughs (except in Alaska), and towns (except in the six New England states, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin).
Township Governments -- Eligible for JABG awards -- Organized local governments authorized in state constitutions and statutes and established to provide general government for areas defined without regard to population concentration; includes those governments designated as towns in Connecticut, Maine (including organized plantations), Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire (including organized locations), New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, and townships in other states.
Special District Governments -- Not Eligible for JABG awards -- All organized local entities (other than counties, municipalities, townships, or school districts) authorized by state law to provide only one or a limited number of designated functions, and with sufficient administrative and fiscal autonomy to qualify as separate governments; known by a variety of titles, including districts, authorities, boards, and commissions.
School District Governments -- Not Eligible for JABG awards -- Organized local entities providing public elementary, secondary, and higher education which, under state law, have sufficient administration and fiscal autonomy to qualify as separate governments. Excludes dependent public school systems of county, municipal, township, or state governments.