While some cities manage to balance revenues with citizen services and expectations, others struggle with that because funding and resources are required for critical needs related to transportation, infrastructure, public safety and emergency services. Their revenues are stretched to the breaking point and some citizen services are suffering.
Wallethub recently analyzed the operating efficiency of 150 of the nation’s largest cities to determine which are the best managed. The results may surprise you.
Ranked number one among the best-managed cities is Nampa, Idaho. Idaho was the only state with two cities in the top five rankings. In addition to Nampa, the city of Boise, with a population of 205,000 and the second largest city in the state, was ranked in the number three slot.
Texas has 10 of the largest cities in the country and some were highlighted in the study. El Paso had the highest ranking – 27th – among Texas cities regarding management expertise and efficiency, followed by Arlington in 28th place. Other Texas cities and their rankings include: Corpus Christi, 36th; Fort Worth, 44th; Austin, 61st; Houston, 71st; San Antonio, 88th; Dallas 89th; Garland, 95th and Lubbock, 96th.
Every city was graded on financial stability, education, health, safety, economy, infrastructure and pollution. However, overall rankings were based on the quality of a city’s services compared to total budget per capita rankings. Criteria included credit ratings and long-term debt per capita. Also included were individual school rankings and high school graduation rates, employment data and underemployment rates, annual household income and job growth rate.
Understandably, the higher number of residents leaves the nation’s largest cities at a disadvantage and adds management challenges. Houston, fourth largest U.S. city with a population of 2.3 million, ranked #71st for best managed city among the nation’s five largest cities. New York, the nation’s largest city with 8.5 million residents, ranked second from the bottom at 148th and Los Angeles, with a population of 3.9 million, ranked 131st.
Cities that are managing the very complicated balance of needs versus revenue are doing so through innovation, state-of-the-art technology, collaboration, creativity and the use of alternative funding options.
To show the range of issues facing today’s cities, regardless of size, the study included commentary from a panel of experts. The most critical issues facing U.S. cities today, according to these experts include:
- Limited water resources, particularly among cities with a single water source;
- Scarcity of middle class jobs;
- Skills gaps in the workforce;
- Long-term solvency caused by pension liabilities, housing demand and improved local services, particularly schools and public safety;
- Aging infrastructure;
- Need for improved access to opportunities through public transit; and
- Development of affordable housing.
This is only a sampling of issues that require difficult city management decisions. Many cities have moved toward “smart city” status in an effort to maintain citizen services and to manage more efficiently. Smart City status requires the use of digital and communication technology to enhance services, create efficiencies, increase economic development and improve quality of life. That and a growing interest in public-private partnerships that provide alternative funding sources are likely to improve the management scores of many cities.
One comment in the study notes that the key factor is “leadership – having the right kind of leaders in place.” Fortunately, many cities in the U.S. have an abundance of that – forward-thinking public servants who are committed to embrace change, collaborate with private-sector partners when appropriate and work diligently to both meet critical infrastructure needs and also enrich the quality of life for citizens.