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New Data in April
County Health Rankings 2015
of counties witnessed declines in premature death rates between 2004-2006 and 2010-2012.
2014 County Population
counties added residents at a higher rate than the nation overall between 2013 and 2014.
CDBG Federal Funding
profiles of counties that received CDBG funding in the FY2015 entitlement counties* and Hawaii non-entitlement counties.
*including city-county consolidations and independent cities qualifying as county governments under their state constitution
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Decline in FY14 payments to forest counties if the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program is not reauthorized. Unless Congress acts to reauthorize SRS, payments revert to the Payments to States Act of 1908, as amended, and counties will receive a 25 percent payment based on national forest receipts.
Profiles of forest counties that received SRS funding in the FY2013 receipts year.
Million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) formula money going directly to entitlement counties from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Other counties can receive funding from the small cities CDBG program through their states.
Housing Units Data
Was the median gross rent in an average U.S. county with a county government in 2013.
of housing units in an average county with county government were renter occupied in 2013.
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of counties witnessed declines in premature death rates between 2004-2006
counties added residents at a higher rate than the nation overall between
2013 and 2014.
profiles of counties that received CDBG funding in the FY2015 entitlement
counties* and Hawaii non-entitlement counties.
*including city-county consolidations and independent cities qualifying as
county governments under their state constitution
Understanding commuting patterns — or the
journey from home to work — is important for counties in planning
transportation projects and economic development efforts. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data from 2008 – 2012,
shows variation in the ways workers travel to work in counties across the
Although the automobile was still the
dominant mode of transport for commuters nationwide, there is variation in the
numbers of people commuting to work by automobile across regions of the U.S. and
across small, medium and large size counties.
Compared to other modes of transport including public transportation,
walking, biking, taxicab or motorcycle — driving to work in an automobile has
the largest share of workers nationwide, with 86 percent of workers in this
category. However, there is variation in
the share of workers that drive to work across regions of the U.S. In the northeast only 74 percent of workers
drive to work, while in the South slightly over 90 percent of workers drive an
automobile to work. In examining the
data at the county level, large counties—those with a population over 500,000—have
a smaller share of workers that drive to work, at 82 percent. Both medium-sized and small counties have a
share of 91 percent of commuters that drive to work.
While most workers that drive to work drive
alone, carpooling makes up a significant share of commutes by automobile, at 12
percent. The region of the U.S. with the
highest percentage of carpoolers is the West at 13 percent, and lowest is the
Midwest with only 10 percent of automobile commuters in carpool. The share of carpoolers out of total workers
who drive to work is similar across small, medium and large counties, but the ten
counties with the highest percentage of drivers that carpool are all small
counties. For example, in Quitman County,
Ga. over 28 percent of all commuters who drive to work do so in a carpool.
There is significant variation across
counties in the share of workers commuting using public transportation. Nationwide the percent of workers commuting
by public transit is 5 percent. Large
counties have 10 percent of workers commuting by public transportation, while
medium-sized counties have only 1.4 percent and small counties have even
fewer—less than 1 percent. This result
is not surprising given that larger counties tend to be more urbanized and may
have larger transit systems, compared to most medium and small sized counties. The only county with more than half of its
workers commuting by public transit is New York City, with 56 percent of
workers getting to work using public transportation. On the other hand, in 18 percent of all
counties, there are no workers that travel to work using public transportation. Most
of these counties with no public transportation commutes are located in the
South or Midwest regions of the U.S.
Non-motorized transport, which includes
bicycling and walking, makes up a small share of all commutes, but this share
has been growing over time. The Census
Bureau recently released an American Community Survey report that examined
trends in bicycling and walking commutes over the U.S. The report found that the share of commuters
nationwide that bike to work is only 0.6 percent and walking is 2.8 percent. While these percentages are small, the study
found that the number of commutes by bicycle increased from 488,000 in 2000 to
about 786,000 in 2008 - 2012. The
Western region of the U.S. has the highest share of workers commuting by
bicycle; only thirteen counties have over 5 percent of workers commuting via
bicycle, but of these counties, nine are in the West. Gunnison County, a small county in western
Colorado, has a large share of bicycle commuters, at 11 percent.
These local commuting statistics paint a
picture of the commuting patterns in counties across the country, with effects
on transportation planning and economic development. While driving alone is still the dominant
mode of transport to work, carpooling has a significant share of commutes in
many counties. Public transportation has
a relatively small share of commutes nationwide, but varies greatly across
counties, with large urban counties having a far higher share of commutes via
public transit. For more information
about commuting statistics, please visit www.census.gov/acs/www/.
University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation just released the annual County
Health Rankings & Roadmap for 2014
puts counties and the health of their residents center stage. The annual rankings are part of a program
launched in 2010 to show how counties are doing and where they can improve on
health. This year, the measurement tool
has six new indicators and an interactive map for easier exploration of the
The 2014 County Health Rankings assessment
tool includes 34 different ranked measures that influence the health of
Americans, such as smoking, high school graduation rates, employment, obesity
and access to exercise. The rankings are
based on measurements of two components: 29 health factors, elements that
influence health; and five health outcomes, showing the results of health behavior.
These measures come mostly from public
sources such as the U.S.
Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics
and other units of the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. The health factors examine the health
behavior of county residents like smoking and drug use, access and quality of
clinical care, social and economic factors and the quality of the physical
environment. The five health outcomes range
from a measure of health-related quality of life, the number of low birth
weight children to premature deaths. The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute creates six summary
scores which sum into either a health factors summary score or a health
outcomes summary score, based
on a weighting of the indicators.
These two final summary scores then go
into the final ranking for each county within its state.
Across the nation, the rankings show some
concerning disparities in residents’ health among counties. People in the healthiest counties are twice as
likely to live longer than those in the least healthy counties. The tool also highlights the significant interaction
between socio-economic factors and health outcomes. Though teen births have fallen 25 percent between
2007 and 2011 across the country, there are twice as many teen births in the
least healthy counties compared to the healthiest. The authors also found that smoking rates
dropped from 21 to 18 percent between 2005 and 2012.
The 2014 County
Health Rankings are available on an interactive map at www.countyHealthRankings.org , where users can compare overall rankings
between counties in the same state and view the indicators that generated the
rankings for each county. In Texas, for
example, Tarrant County is in the top 25 percent of counties in the state for
resident health. Tarrant County
is ranked low for its physical environment, which includes air and water
quality as well as housing and transportation, but it outperforms almost all
other Texas counties in terms of health behaviors, such as smoking, obesity,
and access to exercise.
The rankings have a companion program called the Roadmaps to Health Action Center, which aims to motivate
and help communities implement
solutions to improve the health of their residents. The Action Center features guides, tools and stories of success. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize 2014 winners will be announced in June for communities
coming together to find health solutions across sectors. One such success story is Gem County, Idaho. Motivated by a low ranking for their health behavior
category in 2010, the county formed a partnership called the Gem County Community Health Connection to address problems in tobacco use, obesity and
chronic disease. Originally ranked last in
health behavior out of the 44 Idaho counties in 2010, they moved up to 32nd in this year’s ranking.
Together, the 2014
County Health Rankings interactive tool and its companion Roadmaps to
Health Action Center show the health status of residents in counties across the
country, and how counties can help their residents to improve their health,
whether it is increasing access to exercise facilities or improving the quality
of drinking water. The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps are
the right tools for county leaders to assess problems with the health level of
their residents and help their county residents have healthier lives.
Earth Day on April 22 was a reminder
of all things that can go green — including energy, air quality,
transportation, water quality, land use, purchasing and recycling. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)
ENERGY STAR program — a voluntary program that helps businesses,
government entities and individuals — works towards saving money for its
participants through energy efficiency. Many
people may recognize the ENERGY STAR label on electronics and appliances, but the
program is not only for computers and refrigerators — commercial buildings and
industrial plants can also get an ENERGY STAR certification. ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants
are located in counties across the country, and additionally, many county
governments have taken steps to reduce the energy consumption of their
buildings, certify them and save money on energy and water use.
The EPA has a straightforward process
for gaining an ENERGY STAR certification for buildings. The first step is to use the Portfolio
Manager, which is free software that tracks and reports a building’s water
and energy use. Once the user enters the
characteristics of the building in the Portfolio Manager such as square
footage, weekly operating hours, and monthly energy and water consumption data,
the Portfolio Manager creates metrics on energy use and greenhouse gas
emissions. In addition, buildings may
also receive a 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR rating, which compares the user’s building
to buildings with similar primary use. A
score of 50 indicates that the building is an average performer, while a score
of 75 or above indicates that the building is a top energy performer and it is
eligible for ENERGY STAR certification. As
of April 2014, there are over 23,000 buildings across the country with an ENERGY
STAR certification and the EPA
estimates that the overall energy cost savings of these buildings were $2.7
billion by the end of 2012.
Recently, the EPA released their 2013 ranking
of the top
25 cities with ENERGY STAR certified buildings. Los Angeles, Calif. ranked as the number one
city, with 443 ENERGY STAR certified buildings located in the city. Not surprising, a large number of ENERGY STAR
certified buildings (968 buildings, as of April 2014) are located in Los
Angeles County, Calif., ranging from retail stores to courthouses. Office
buildings account for nearly half of all the ENERGY STAR certified buildings located
in Los Angeles County, while K-12 schools have the second largest share — 37
percent. Los Angeles County has also
certified its own buildings, which include office buildings and courthouses. For example, the County of Los Angeles
Internal Services Department headquarters building received an ENERGY STAR
certification in 2010. In other
counties, different types of buildings represent the bulk of ENERGY STAR
certified buildings. For example, in
Beaufort County, N.C. all four ENERGY STAR certified buildings in the county
County governments are also taking the
initiative to improve energy efficiency in their own buildings. As of April 2014, there are 229 county-owned
buildings ENERGY STAR certified, including office buildings, courthouses and warehouses. For example,
the first county courthouse to gain an ENERGY STAR certification is North
Regional Courthouse in Broward County, Fl., which earned its certification in
1999. More recently, the Benjamin
Building, a county-owned office building in Ada County, Idaho, earned an ENERGY
STAR certification in 2014. Ada County
was also the first county to earn an ENERGY STAR rating through NACo’s
2004 ENERGY STAR Courthouse Campaign for the Ada
County Courthouse and Administration Building.
The courthouse earned a certification
largely due to its design; the building features many environmentally friendly
measures including a geothermal heating system, insulated ductwork, window
tinting and energy efficient lighting. The
building achieved a rating of 76 when it first earned its certification in
2004, and the labelled rating has increased to 82 in 2012.
To help counties save taxpayer money
and protect the environment, NACo’s Green Government Initiative (GGI) provides
information through the County
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Portal, which includes a number of
resources to help counties make energy investments. The portal contains links to news articles and
presentations related to county energy efficiency initiatives as well as tools
that counties can use to finance, install and promote clean energy. In addition, NACo has partnered with the
ENERGY STAR program and offers
valuable tools and information to help counties better understand ENERGY
STAR’s offerings. NACo also offers
assistance to county staff in using the Portfolio Manager tool to track and
measure energy consumption in county buildings.
By improving energy efficiency in
their buildings, counties across the country are practicing good stewardship of
their resources and reducing energy costs.
NACo’s Green Government Initiative helps counties deliver on their
energy efficiency initiatives. For more
information on the location of the ENERGY STAR certified buildings, visit ENERGY
STAR’s Building Locator: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=labeled_buildings.locator.
Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released
the 2013 county population estimates, allowing a closer look at population changes
on a local level. NACo’s previous
analysis of 2013 state and regional trends revealed that U.S. population
continued to grow between 2012 and 2013 overall, but at a slightly slower rate
than in the previous year. Population expansion at the county level shows wider
variation within state or regional trends, often driven by the local economic
The population slowdown happened in almost half of all the counties
across the country. More than half of
counties in 14 states – including Alaska, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania –
experienced slower population growth in 2013 than in the previous year. Alaska had the largest share of boroughs undergoing
a population slowdown, with 16 out of the total 19 witnessing a deceleration.
But counties saw population expansion in 2013 and at the
lower end of growth rates, stabilization.
Consistent with regional
findings, many of the fastest growing counties were counties in the South
and Midwest. Most often, these are small
counties (with less than 50,000 residents) with expanding oil industries; of
the 30 fastest growing counties in 2013, nine of them are located in North
Dakota and 11 are in Texas. For example,
McKenzie County, ND’s population skyrocketed by 17 percent. The county – located on the Bakken Formation
– produced 8.4
million barrels of oil in January 2014 alone, making it the highest oil
producing county in North Dakota.
Population trends in counties with declining populations
showed signs towards stabilization. Almost
70 percent of counties who saw their population shrink between 2011 and 2012 had
lesser declines, and in some cases population growth in 2013. Looking at the bottom 50 cases, population
contracted by 4 percent on average in 2012.
In contrast, the following year, the population in these 50 counties stopped
declining, remaining virtually the same as in 2012. For the most part, these 50 counties are small
counties scattered throughout the West, Midwest and parts of the South.
These local population trends show what counties are in the
midst of rapid population changes. While
population growth comes often on the heels of economic expansion, counties
often cannot keep up with the needs of their communities and infrastructure due
to the current structure of the county funding.
Counties are creatures of the state, so often funds for essential
services such as maintenance of roads and bridges depend on state support. As
county population patterns keep changing, counties have to adapt to deliver
services to their residents.
California jail population increased in 2012 as
the implementation of the public safety realignment process forced reductions
in prison population. On February 10th this year, a three-judge panel
approved California's proposal to extend their deadline for the reduction of
prison populations to 2016. This is the
final deadline extension from an original court order in 2009 that sought to
improve health and mental health care services for inmates by reducing California’s
prison population to 137.5 percent of statewide capacity. Unfortunately for counties, this public safety realignment that began in 2011 in California and
similar decisions to reduce prison population across the United States may mean
more inmates in county jails.
Local jails represent an important component
of the correctional system in any state.
According to the 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data, California
jails house over 78,000 individuals, almost 4 in 10 incarcerated individuals in
the state. This is more than 10 percent
of all the local jails’ inmates in the United States. Generally, jails house individuals who are
awaiting trial or who are serving short sentences, while prisons are federally
or state-run facilities for individuals convicted of more serious offenses. Local governments, mainly counties, fund and
run jails; in 2007, according to the latest available Census of Governments
data, counties spent $23.3 billion on correctional facilities, including jails.
The recent public safety realignment process
changes the state of affairs.
The 2011 California public safety realignment
policy places low level nonviolent offenders currently serving time in prison in county jails. As a
result, while prison population declined by nearly 10 percent in 2012, the
number of people in jail increased by more than 12 percent, breaking a
four-year trend of declining jail populations (See Figure). Many local jails were already overcrowded and
overburdened before the public safety realignment began. According to the BJS Annual Survey of Jails,
at least seven California jails had average daily inmate populations above
capacity in 2010. As Santa Cruz County
Sheriff’s Lt. Shea Johnson explained in a Santa Cruz Sentinel op-ed in October last year, “County jails were never intended to
house people for a longer period of time, so we need to come up with
solutions.” To help counties fund their
solutions, the state provides realignment funding to local jails to ease supervision costs and
to expand jails where needed.
Jail and Prison Populations in California, 2005-2012
U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of Jails, 1999 and 2005; Annual
Survey of Jails, midyear 2006–2012; Deaths in Custody Reporting Program,
In February 2014, NACo released a new research study The Road Ahead: County Transportation Funding and Financing, which examines county transportation (roads and bridges) funding mechanisms, challenges and solutions across the 48 states with county governments. Accompanying the study, NACo released an interactive web-based map that details information related to transportation funding for counties in each state from the share of county roads and bridges in the state to identifying the states that authorize counties to raise a local option sales tax to use for transportation. The user can also access individual two page profile for each state on how counties in that state fund transportation.
Taking a closer look at counties in one state — Oklahoma — shows the range of information available on the interactive tool and state profiles. Oklahoma counties have a significant responsibility for roads and bridges in the state — counties own 70 percent of public road miles and 59 percent of all bridges statewide. By comparison, counties nationwide own 45 percent of public road miles and 39 percent of bridges. The main funding program for county roads and bridges is the County Highway Fund, which consists of revenues from the state taxes on gasoline and diesel fuels as well as motor vehicle registration fees and a portion of the of the state gross production tax on oil and gas in the case of counties that have oil and gas production. These funds —$265.6 million in state fiscal year 2013— are allocated to each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties by a formula. In addition, counties received from the state Tax Commission funding to build, contract and maintain county roads and bridges, close to $24.6 million in state fiscal year 2013. In addition, for the replacement and reconstruction of county roads and bridges, the state allocated to counties $99 million in 2013.
Counties also receive road and bridge funding from the federal government, channeled through the state. In federal FY13, The Oklahoma Department of Transportation provided counties with $26 million from the federal Surface Transportation Program and another $500,000 for safety bridge inspection. Federal funding, however, accounted for only 6 percent of total county transportation funding in 2013. In addition, counties raise their own revenue sources to supplement state and federal funding through local option sales taxes. In FY13, counties raised $34 million for transportation projects using local option sales taxes.
Oklahoma counties face a number of challenges, some shared with counties in other states while others specific to Oklahoma. They depend heavily on revenues from the state gas tax for transportation funding and like many counties across the country, they are grappling with the problem of the declining purchasing power of the state gas tax. The state’s fixed-rate gas tax has not been raised since 1987 and it has not kept pace with increasing costs of construction and maintenance, making it increasingly difficult for counties to fund road and bridge projects. Thirty-one (31) percent of all county bridges in Oklahoma are structurally deficient, but they represent the bulk of all the structurally deficient bridges in the state — 83 percent. Oklahoma counties have also been hit hard recently by natural disasters —between 2010 and today, Oklahoma had 13 major disaster declarations ranging from severe winter storms and wildfires to tornadoes and flooding. These disasters took a toll on county roads and bridges. Counties have not been receiving adequate funding to repair the damage, especially on county major collectors since these roads do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.
Oklahoma counties continue to look for ways to address their transportation challenges. One proposal is H.B. 1080 in Oklahoma legislature. If passed, this bill would reallocate 5 percent of license tag fees paid by motorists from the state’s General Revenue Fund to counties. The reallocation of these fees would result in $30 million in new revenue for counties to invest in county major collectors. Although this bill did not pass in 2013, it is still active for the state legislature to consider in 2014.
To learn more about the role of counties in transportation and how they fund their roads and bridges in Oklahoma and other 47 states with county governments, visit NACo’s The Road Ahead study and interactive data tool at www.naco.org/countytransportation.
NACo recently released The Road Ahead: County Transportation
Funding and Financing, a study assessing the role of counties in
transportation (roads and bridges), funding challenges and solutions to their
transportation systems. Moving Ahead for
Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the federal surface
transportation funding legislation expires at the end of September 2014, with
federal discussions surrounding reauthorization already started. This study and the companion products will
help NACo guide discussions regarding federal transportation legislation.
Together with the study, NACo research team released the Road Ahead web-based map
interactive featuring state level maps showcasing state and county transportation
statistics. The web map provides access
also to individual state profiles for the 43 states in which counties play a
role in roads and bridges. To access the
report, web interactive and state profiles, go to www.uscounties.org/county-transportation-funding/
The interactive showcases eight indicators listed in the top
menu. Once the user clicks on the top
level indicator, the interactive displays the respective state level data
across the map. The user can access the
definition for each indicator by hovering over each indicator tab. Additionally, the user can hover over any
state to see a number of data for that state.
Counties are creatures of the state, deriving their powers and
authorities from state statute. The
report and interactive highlight several limitations states impose on counties’
ability to raise revenues through property taxes, local gas taxes and local
option sales taxes. Counties in 43
states are subject to some form of property tax limitations imposed by the
state, including caps on property tax rates and limits on assessment increases.
Assessment limits, which control counties’
ability to raise revenue through reassessing property values, are especially
binding when coupled with a cap on property tax rates. Counties in 16 states are subject to this
binding combination of state imposed property tax limitations as depicted in
the “state limits on property tax” map in the interactive.
The interactive features individual state profiles –
accessible by clicking the desired state in any map view. They provide more in-depth analysis of the
role of counties play in transportation funding and financing in each state. For each state, the profiles outline county
authority over roads and bridges and transportation revenue streams to counties
from the state and from the federal governments. Wherever the data was available, the profile
provides also the revenue sources distribution for county transportation from state,
federal and own county sources. The
profiles also offer information on state limitations on county property taxes,
even that some counties do not use county property tax revenue for
transportation. Based on authority
granted by the state, the profiles also outline which of their own revenue
sources counties use to supplement federal and state funding. Each profile details specific barriers
counties face in funding transportation projects. The profiles also highlights specific
programs, solutions or recent measures taken by counties(or measures taken by
state that would help counties) to overcome transportation funding challenges
As discussions surrounding reauthorization of federal
surface transportation funding legislation begin, The Road Ahead: County Transportation
Funding and Financing and its accompanying web interactive
will help NACo members, NACo, state county associations and NACo affiliates to
educate policymakers on the role of counties in transportation and highlight
the challenges that counties face in funding one of the largest portions of the
U.S. transportation system.
Population changes can create opportunities or challenges for
governments, including county governments. The U.S. Census Bureau recently released the
2013 population estimates for states and regions, which are a good preview of
the more detailed data at the county level forthcoming in March. The 2013 state population data shows continued
national population growth, but with important regional differences.
Population growth varied significantly across regions and
states. Overall, the U.S. population expanded
by 0.7 percent between 2012 and 2013. This overall growth rate was slightly slower
than the previous year, and continued a trend of declining growth rates. At the regional level, the South and West added
residents at higher rates than the national average, similar with previous
years. Population in the Northeastern
and Midwestern regions also expanded, but at much slower rates of growth than
the other regions.
Some states stood out for their rapid population growth in
2013. With an economic boom fueled by the
expansion in the oil industry, North Dakota was the state with the fastest
population growth in 2013, at over 3 percent. Since 2011, North Dakota has topped the charts
terms of population expansion rates. Population
growth accelerated in Idaho in 2013, moving the state among the top 15 with the
fastest growth rates. Ohio is also
adding more people than in the previous years; there were almost 18,000 more
Ohioans in 2013 than in 2012, more than five times the growth the previous
Other states have experienced slow population growth over the
past year. Based on Census population
estimates, West Virginia lost population in 2013 after several years of modest,
but positive growth. In Maine,
population remained virtually at the same levels as in 2012. Population growth in N.M. was less than 0.1
percent, in contrast to above 1 percent annual growth experienced before 2009.
Overall, the just released 2013 population estimates show
population growth continued in United States, but with a number of variations
across states and regions. In March of
this year, the 2013 county population estimates will provide an opportunity to
examine whether the same trends apply at the local level. The NACo research team will deliver a more
in-depth analysis of the county population data in March.