Like Rome, no great city can be built in a day. A solid foundation for an ideal metropolis often develops over decades, even centuries, and through strong economic leadership. But with an excess of borrowing and a shortage of sound financial planning, cities can fall too deep into debt, as demonstrated by the rare municipality bankruptcies in recent years — a few notable cases including Detroit; Harrisburg, Penn.; and San Bernardino, Calif.
In light of the looming tax filing deadline, WalletHub assessed how efficiently some of America’s largest urban centers spend taxpayer dollars on certain key expenditure categories, including education, law enforcement, and parks and recreation. Our analysts tallied the scores among 78 of the largest cities on these expenditures to identify those that most efficiently spend public resources. Although we could not account for all public spending, we believe that efficient spending in key areas is a strong indicator of the level of efficiency in other expenditure categories.
Scroll down for the results, expert commentary and a full description of our methodology.
“Adjusted Education ROI” Rank
“Adjusted Law Enforcement ROI” Rank
“Parks & Recreation ROI” Rank
|1||New Orleans, LA||1||9||66|
|11||Baton Rouge, LA||12||6||70|
|14||El Paso, TX||24||5||26|
|18||Fort Wayne, IN||13||17||37|
|19||San Antonio, TX||29||21||12|
|26||Oklahoma City, OK||32||35||16|
|27||St. Louis, MO||8||70||54|
|29||San Diego, CA||53||59||6|
|30||Colorado Springs, CO||50||51||8|
|33||Fort Worth, TX||35||46||17|
|36||Corpus Christi, TX||28||29||42|
|47||New York, NY||74||72||5|
|52||Kansas City, MO||52||57||19|
|55||Los Angeles, CA||70||66||14|
|61||Las Vegas, NV||54||40||63|
|65||Long Beach, CA||46||69||67|
|66||Virginia Beach, VA||55||64||44|
|69||San Francisco, CA||51||75||62|
|71||San Jose, CA||61||74||45|
|74||St. Petersburg, FL||67||71||65|
|76||Santa Ana, CA||72||55||71|
|77||St. Paul, MN||76||41||64|
Ask the Experts
The real test of a city’s spending efficiency is how well it manages the challenges that are unique to its communities, which requires a concerted effort among all stakeholders, not just policymakers. For a deeper examination of the issues facing local governments and insightful advice for administrators and residents alike, we asked a panel of experts to weigh in. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- What are the biggest issues facing city governments today?
- How have city finances fared through the recession and economic recovery?
- What are some best practices for effectively and efficiently managing cities?
- What makes some cities better-run than others?
- How can residents know whether their tax dollars are being used wisely by local authorities?
Ask the Experts
In order to identify the most efficiently operated cities in America, WalletHub’s analysts compared 78 of the most populated cities across three key “Return on Investment” (ROI) categories: 1) Adjusted Education ROI, 2) Adjusted Law Enforcement ROI and 3) Parks & Recreation ROI. Our data set is listed below with the corresponding weight for each metric.
The "Adjusted Education ROI" and "Adjusted Law Enforcement ROI" metrics are based on previous studies we conducted. The methodology for each can be found through the links provided. “Parks & Recreation ROI” was calculated by dividing “Total Parkland Acreage Within City Limits” by “Total Parks & Recreation Expenditures.” Please note that “Total Parkland Acreage Within City Limits” refers to the area of parkland managed by the city.
“Adjusted Education ROI” Rank: Triple Weight (~50.00 Points)
“Adjusted Law Enforcement ROI” Rank: Double Weight (~33.33 Points)
“Parks & Recreation ROI” Rank: Full Weight (~16.16 Points)
Ideally, this analysis would account for a city’s spending efficiency on public transportation, infrastructure and health, in addition to the categories included in this report. “Parks & Recreation ROI” also would include parkland quality. However, data for these metrics were not available and therefore excluded from our analysis. Although such limitations exist, efficient spending in the key areas accounted for in this report is a strong indicator for the level of efficiency in other expenditure categories.
Sources: Data used to create these rankings were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Trust for Public Land and WalletHub research.