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Houston earns dismal grade for financial health, new report says

Houston earned a D grade in a recent report detailing financial health. Photo courtesy

Compared to many of Texas' big cities, Houston is hardly making the grade fiscally.

That's according to a recent report from nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank Truth in Accounting. Houston earns a D grade for its financial health in Truth in Accounting's new Financial State of the Cites 2021 report, a comprehensive analysis of the fiscal health of the top 75 most populated cities in the U.S.

Based on fiscal year 2019, and therefore reflecting a pre-pandemic economy, the report examines a variety of financial factors to determine each city's "taxpayer burden" or "taxpayer surplus" to determine cities' rankings and grades.

As for the grading, the report may assign a municipal government a C grade if it comes close to meeting its balanced-budget requirement, which is reflected by a small taxpayer burden. An A or B grade means governments have met their balanced-budget requirements and have a taxpayer surplus.

Meanwhile, governments receiving D (Houston) and F grades have not balanced their budgets and have significant taxpayer burdens, according to the report.

Houston had $5.65 billion available to pay $13.16 billion worth of bills. What does that mean to individuals?

"Bottom line: Houston would need $11,600 from each of its taxpayers to pay all of its bills, so it has received a 'D' for its finances," the report nots. "According to Truth in Accounting's grading scale, any government with a Taxpayer Burden between $5,000 D and $20,000 receives a 'D.'"

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio is in the best financial shape out all of Texas' four biggest metros, earning a C and ranking 34 out of 75 cities. The report notes that San Antonio entered the pandemic in "mediocre fiscal health," despite the city's debt load of $1.5 billion and a taxpayer burden of $3,500. The report says not only is Austin, scoring a D, is not making the grade fiscally and may be even worse off post-pandemic.

Like Houston and Austin, a slew of other Texas cities earned a D grade in the report, including Dallas (ranked No. 61 out of 75 cities), Fort Worth (No. 54), and El Paso (No. 42).

Arlington (No. 16), with a taxpayer burden of only $200, received a financial grade of C, as did Corpus Christi (No. 19), which had a taxpayer burden of $1,100. The top-ranking Texas city in the report is the Dallas suburb of Plano (No. 9), which received a B grade, reflective of its $2,000 taxpayer surplus.

Despite the distressing news, the Texas metros are not alone in receiving less-than-stellar fiscal grades. In fact, most cities analyzed in the report did not have enough money to pay all their bills. Based on Truth in Accounting's grading methodology, no cities received an A grade, 13 received a B grade, 28 received Cs, 28 received Ds, and six cities received failing grades.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

SurgWise is giving surgical teams the right support for hiring. Photo via Getty Images

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”

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