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Cook County Ranked First in Per Capita Spending for General Government in 2020 by State Auditor

The Minnesota Office of the State Auditor reports that in 2020 Cook County ranked first of 87 counties in per-capita spending for General Government. Cook (pop. 5,600) spent $806 per capita (per person). Neighboring Lake County (pop. 10,905) came in at 13th place spending $452 per capita.

The State Auditor has been analyzing and reporting on local government revenue and expenditures for many years.

In a January 15, 1998 editorial, the Minneapolis Star Tribune called out Cook County for its number-one ranking in the 1997 report. In 1997 Cook County spent $379 per capita on General Government. The next highest county in 1997 was $233, 39% less.

“General Government” excludes spending for Public Safety, Highways, Sanitation, Human Services, Health, Culture and Recreation, Conservation, and Economic Development. In Cook County, General Government spending is less than a quarter of its $19.9 million total expenditure ($3,562 per capita). Lake County spent a bit over $26 million or $2,391 per capita.

Cook County also took first place in Net Tax Levy per capita at $1,901 ($10,645,113), more than double Lake County’s per capita Net Tax Levy of $981 ($10,695,588) which put Lake County in 13th place.

Total revenue per capita of $5,203 ($29.1 million) put Cook County first again. Lake County’s total revenue of $3,689 per capita ($40.2 million) earned them 7th out of 87 counties.

In the itemized expenditure reports, Cook County spent more per capita than Lake County except for Health and Culture & Recreation. This could be explained by accounting differences between the two counties.

Total expenditures, not including capital outlays which are predominantly for highways, roads, and bridges, for Lake County were $26 million, $2391 per capita ranking them 7th. Cook County ranked first again (on a per capita basis) with $19.9 million in total expenditures, $3,561 per capita.

Including capital outlays and debt service, Lake County expenditures were $36.9 million, or $3,386 per capita while Cook County reported $26 million, or $4,666 per capita.

The State Auditor also reports on and ranks income and expenditures for cities.

Grand Marais, with a population of 1,337, ranked 43 out of 620 cities with $2,393 per capita in total revenue ($3.2 million.) Silver Bay, population 1,857, collected $2,607 per capita in total revenue ($4.8 million) ranking it 30th of the 620 cities.

The two cities face different debt service obligations. Grand Marais reported $1.675 million in debt service expenditures, 12th out of the 385 cities reporting, while Silver Bay reports $91,000 in debt service expenditures putting it in the 333rd spot of the 385 reporting.

Grand Marais reports $4.2 million in total expenditures (including debt service) or $3,114 per capita placing it in the top 5% of spenders per capita.

Silver Bay reported $4.3 million in expenditures, $2,342 per capita. Clearly, a difficult task for the average taxpayer is finding out where their tax dollars go. County and State Auditors do what they can and are surprisingly transparent. But comparing Cook County’s General Government expenditures of $379 per capita with a population of 4,633 in 1997 to the 2020 General Government expense of $806 (112% increase) with a population of 5,600 (21% increase) may get some people thinking. That’s what the Star Tribune editors urged back in ’97.

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