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Michigan local government officials report improved fiscal health after a year of COVID-19, but not to pre-pandemic levels

December 16, 2021

Michigan’s local governments report improvement on many fiscal health measures after a year of struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, but for much of the state the situation has stayed the same or continues to decline, according to a new Michigan Public Policy Survey report. Based on data from Spring, 2021, 27% of local governments say they are better able to meet their fiscal needs compared with last year, up from 15% in 2020, but still below the 36% that said the same in 2019. Yet 48% report no change, and 21% say they are currently less able to meet their needs, though that is down from 34% the previous year.

The largest jurisdictions by population size had reported the largest declines in measures of public health at the start of the pandemic, and now report the greatest rebounds, moving from 38% net decline in 2020 to 20% net improvement this year.

The Spring 2021 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS), conducted between April 5 and June 7, 2021, by the University of Michigan Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), gave a snapshot of most jurisdictions reporting low stress levels overall, and noted rebounds in property tax revenue, and state and federal aid. A total of 1,364 jurisdictions returned valid surveys.

“The stresses caused by the public health crisis, economic shutdowns, and changes in the labor market took a toll in 2020. Local government leaders have expressed a welcome easing of that stress. Yet many indicators show that the rebound has not been particularly strong, as many governments say they are simply holding steady,” says Tom Ivacko, CLOSUP executive director.   

"We see that some jurisdictions are planning to increase services, including increasing their spending on public safety and infrastructure needs, at a much higher rate than last year. That reflects a rebound in optimism about the future of their local economies and their own governments’ fiscal capacity,'' according to Debra Horner, CLOSUP project manager.

The MPPS is an ongoing census survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan conducted by CLOSUP since 2009. Respondents for the Spring 2021 wave include county administrators, board chairs, and clerks; city mayors, managers, and clerks; village presidents, managers, and clerks; and township supervisors, managers, and clerks from 1,364 jurisdictions across the state. The Survey is conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League, and Michigan Townships Association. 

The report is available here.