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The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

By comparing the operating efficiency of 149 of the largest U.S. cities, experts at WalletHub, the personal finance firm, have come up with a score for which ones are managed best.

Nampa, Idaho.
(Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock)
The U.S. has over 100,000 cities and towns, including 317 that have a population over 100,000. Everybody has a favorite, but which ones operate the most efficiently? That’s the question WalletHub, the personal finance firm, set out to answer. They wanted to learn how well city officials manage and spend public funds by comparing the quality of services residents receive against the city’s total budget.

Looking at 149 big and small cities in the country, researchers were able to quantify the complexities of city management. They constructed a “Quality of Services” score made up of 36 metrics grouped into six service categories, which was then measured against the city’s per capita budget.

The result? The city of Nampa, Idaho, came out with the highest score, followed by Lexington, Ky.; Nashua, N.H.; and Boise. At the bottom of the list were New York City, Chattanooga and San Francisco.

Source: WalletHub

While Nampa may appear to be way out of its league when measured against New York or San Francisco, it and other top ranking municipalities share several common factors that make them well-run cities, according to James Davenport, a political scientist at Rose State College.

"The level of conflict that exists on the city council" is a good indicator, he said. "A city council that is in constant conflict and cannot reach broad agreement on important issues will not lend itself to a well-functioning municipal government."

Other factors that can separate a good city from one in trouble include:

* Professionalization of the municipal bureaucracy
* Rates of entrepreneurship
* Population growth rate
* Crime rate


WalletHub compared 149 of the most populated cities across six key categories: 1) Financial Stability, 2) Education, 3) Health, 4) Safety, 5) Economy and 6) Infrastructure and Pollution.

It evaluated those dimensions using 36 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of service.

Next, it calculated an overall “Quality of City Services” score for each city based on its weighted average across all the metrics. Finally, for each city, it divided the “Quality of City Services” score by the “Total Budget per Capita” (dollar amount) in order to construct a “Score per Dollar Spent” index — displayed as “Overall Rank” in the Main Findings table above — which were then used to rank-order the cities in the sample.
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