OBJECTIVES: This study examined local health department expenditures and their relationship to several departmental characteristics, including the size of the population in the department's jurisdiction. METHODS: Local health department characteristics were obtained from a 1992/93 nationwide mail survey and modeled by means of multiple linear regression. RESULTS: Great variability existed in the per capita expenditures of local health departments, and approximately 70% of the variability was accounted for by differences in jurisdiction population size. Additional characteristics of the health departments explained another 11%. The average unadjusted per capita expenditure by local health departments nationwide was $26. CONCLUSIONS: Local health department expenditures that support essential public health services average a dime a day per person.