Unlike other big Texas cities that are swimming in debt, Arlington has cash on hand to cover its public pension liabilities.
The self-proclaimed “American Dream City” ranks No. 7 nationally for its financial health, according to a report by the nonpartisan Truth in Accounting.
No other Texas city came close to cracking the top 10.
TIA’s “Financial State of Cities” found that Arlington had unfunded pension and health-care obligations of $104 million and $122 million, respectively.
“But they have more than enough semi-liquid assets to cover that debt,” TIA founder and CEO Sheila Weinberg told Watchdog.org.
By TIA’s calculations — taking the city’s available cash after its bills are paid and dividing that by the number of local taxpayers — Arlington boasted a per-capita surplus of $100.
The same can’t be said for Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio or El Paso. Austin carries $3,000 in per-taxpayer debt; the other cities are even deeper in the red.
“We’re pleased to see that Arlington has been balancing their budget, and we encourage them to continue to do that,” Weinberg said.
But she cautioned the city over pension and health care costs: “They need to be mindful of these debts before embarking on other spending.”
Watchdog reported this week that other large Texas cities – led by Dallas – are racking up unsustainable levels of pension debt.
“This pushes costs to future taxpayers because these cities don’t get the concept that future retirement obligations should be funded now. Not doing so hides the true cost of government,” Weinberg said.
The TIA study did not account for capital projects, such as Arlington’s pricey sports stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.
Mayor Jeff Williams told the Dallas Morning News last year that city spending on sports and entertainment ventures “has paid off tenfold.”
“We’ve been able to take the money that we’ve made … to help pay for police and fire and parks and libraries,” he said.
Arlington officials declined to comment on the TIA report Wednesday.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.