It's the end of the decade, a perfect time to take stock of how the cost of living, vis-à-vis public institutions, has changed. So Watchdog has tabulated the costs of more than 20 basic services, most provided or regulated by government.
In each case, we sought cost amounts effective Jan. 1 for four years: 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010. We then tabulated the percentage increases over 10- and 20-year spans.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' online inflation calculator, $1 in 1990 was worth $1.32 in 2000 and $1.65 in 2009; $1 in 2000 was worth $1.26 in 2009. So the rate of inflation was 65% from 1990 to 2009, and 26% from 2000 to 2009.
Few of the fees and charges we tracked stayed within those ranges. And besides the mill rates used to calculate property taxes (which are offset by increases in assessed value), only one measure showed a decline: the rate and per-customer cost of natural gas. MGE spokesman Steve Kraus attributes this to falling demand.
One measure we would have liked to include but were unable to obtain was the cost of cable TV. A spokesperson from Charter (which first became the local provider in 1999) did not return a call, and city officials (who, thanks to the state Legislature, no longer play a role in regulating cable) could not track this information down.
We have organized our findings into three lists.
Listed costs, unless otherwise noted, are those effective as of Jan. 1 of each year.
 The increase for annual stickers for nonresidents increased less, from $28 in 1990 to $35 since 2005. The highest percentage increase has been for resident daily use, from $3.50 in 1990 to $7 since 2005. An annual pass for resident seniors remains just $10.
 The numbers reported here are for academic years 1989-90, 1999-2000, 2004-05 and 2009-10.
 This fee is split among several entities. The $115 fee charged since 2003-04 breaks down as follows: $25 to the state of Wisconsin, $35 to the county clerk, $40 to Family Court Counseling and $15 to the District Attorney's office.
 The shelter rental and boat launch fee numbers for 1990 could not be located; these are from 1991.
 The price of a brat in 1990 and 2000 included a small pop, says event coordinator Tim Metcalfe; since 2005 pop has cost extra.
The amount of property taxes paid per homeowner is based on two measures: the mill rate assessed per $1,000 of assessed value by the four main taxing entities; and the assessed value of each property. While the mill rate is consistent for all property, the assessed value changes from home to home, so the best available measure of change is to look at average property values.
The numbers were calculated by Isthmus based on information provided by local officials. (The actual mill rates may vary slightly due to apportionment processes in place between entities.) MMSD stands for Madison Metropolitan School District, by far the area's largest.
City of Madison treasurer Dave Gawenda, who reviewed these numbers, notes that 2009 was an atypical tax year because the assessed value of two-thirds of residential property in the city actually declined. That means those properties whose value stayed the same or went up are paying a larger share of the city's tax burden.
Tax bills for each year are sent in December, and payment of at least half the total is due by Jan. 31 of the following year. So the numbers here reflect the tax bills closest to Jan. 1 in 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010, respectively.
*Property tax bills include a small additional tax for a state forestry program, generally less than 1% of the total bill; that charge is not included here.
As most homeowners know, declining mill rates do not mean lower bills. To show the actual change in property taxation, we multiplied the mill rate times the changing average assessed value of a single-family Madison home. This value was $77,873 in 1989, $149,831 in 1999, $222,928 in 2004 and $245,424 in 2009.
These numbers from the Madison Water Utility are for the rates effective as of the month of December for the years 1989, 1999, 2004 and 2009. The numbers from MGE are for rates on Dec. 31 in the years 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2009.
 The Water Utility is now seeking a 22% rate increase; this would take effect in April 2010, pending Public Service Commission approval. By the way, 100 cubic feet equals 748 gallons.
 Includes utility costs, unlike the base rate for natural gas (see next footnote).
 The rate for natural gas is the actual cost, which MGE passes on directly. The utility's overhead costs are reflected in additional charges and in the total average monthly bills reported for natural gas.