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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

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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