Municipal fiscal crisis!

Arizona City of Surprise Gets to Keep Its AA Rating Despite 10 Years of Accounting Errors

Standard and Poor’s (S&P), one of the nation’s most well-known credit rating agencies, has informed Surprise it is affirming its “AA” credit rating. After a review, S&P cited a diversifying and strong local economy, new city management, low debt and ongoing corrections to past financial issues as reasons for affirming the high rating. S&P defines an AA rating as “a very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.”

This ignores the fact that the city of Surprise has (surprise!) suffered through a decade of multi-million dollar accounting errors and financial mismanagement.

Surprise finance officials say the news is a positive statement about the overall financial and economic health of the City. “S&P’s decision to affirm our AA rating is good news for Surprise taxpayers,” said Surprise Chief Financial Officer Scott McCarty. “This is one of the agency’s highest possible rankings, and the news is a positive checkpoint on our road to financial resiliency.”

Right. The same cannot be said of Surprise Mayor Lyn Truitt, who claimed more than $464,000 in mortgage, credit card and other debt when he filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

Anyway, in FY 2010, Surprise had 33 prior period adjustments, compared to just one the year before and nine the year before that. The city found errors dating back to the year 2000 and stated that every financial statement category was affected. These errors had a $56.3 million liability impact related to the city’s sewer system alone and left the operating budget a little over $5 million in the hole.

Yeah… good luck with that.

The City of Toronto Pays KPMG $350,000 to Do a Study on the Obvious

To the Klynveldians, it was a pretty decent pay day just to state the obvious: that the city of Toronto could save a few bucks (make that a few loonies) by not putting fluoride in its water supply and a few other cost-saving measures. We find KPMG’s tagline of “cutting through complexity” to be extra appropriately hilarious in this particular context and there is no mention in the report of potential cost savings that could be realized were Toronto never to pay for Big 4 consulting services ever again.

Krupo has the entire story over at A Counting School but here’s the short version for those of you with legitimate ADHD problems: eliminating or reducing some non-core services provided by the Public Works and Infrastructure department could save the city $10 – 15 million (CAD).

KPMG states that ending the forced medication of Toronto’s public water supply by cutting the fluoride could have detrimental effects on the dental well-being of Torontonians, though obviously they haven’t been reading up on their tin foil hat, anti-fluoride research, which clearly shows a higher incidence of tooth decay in areas which use the fertilizer-production byproduct (which is considered toxic waste as long as it isn’t dumped in the water supply). Cut it! (If you think I’m insane, check out this “chemical spill” that burned through the concrete in Illinois. Those guys in Hazmat suits? Cleaning up Hydrofluorosilicic acid, the toxic industry slurry that becomes fluoride)

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. KPMG also advises Toronto that holding itself to a lower level standard could help save some cash. “Over half of the services that report through the Public Works Committee are provided ‘at standard’, which is generally the level required by provincial legislation or the level generally provided by other municipalities,” says the report. “30% of services are provided at slightly above standard offering some opportunities for cost reduction by lowering the service level provided. 17% of services are delivered slightly below or below standard.”

One such “higher standard” service to which KPMG refers in this report is the Toxic Taxi (no, that’s not what you call a bar crawl through Denver with Caleb after yoga and two red bean burritos), a free service that picks up your hazardous household waste like expired medications and batteries if you cannot drop them off at an authorized location yourself. We wonder how much went in to make the high quality “advertisement” of bootleg Canadian Mexicans Chuck and Vince trying to get you to turn in your used paint and batteries.

As Torontoist so astutely pointed out, the report didn’t actually look at how the horribly mismanaged Toronto city government could run more efficiently but instead simply analyzed which services could be cut. “KPMG did not assess the effectiveness or efficiency of City services,” the report states. “Assessment of how services are delivered is envisioned to be conducted through separate efficiency reviews. KPMG did not conduct financial analyses of programs and services to identify potential savings.”

I guess efficiency suggestions are extra.

KPMG Suggests Toronto Let the Lawn Get Out of Hand a Bit, Wait Longer to Shovel Snow to Cut Some Spending

The City of Toronto needs some help with ideas of how to cut some spending in their budget. STAT. Enter KPMG. They have to find savings where they can and sometimes that means making suggestions that may not go over so well. For example, those perfectly manicured lawns you see around the city? That’s due to a weekly grass cutting regimen. And guess what? It’s gotta go:

The report […] says weekly grass cutting may not be necessary except for “high-use surfaces” such as playing fields. Public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong recently complained that a wet spring had grass and weeds growing out of control on city sites and called for more grass cutting.

Can you imagine if the City of New York let the grass go for an extra few days? You can just imagine the outrage. Anyone with a park view would be calling up 411 to complain that they can see “weeds” and “that jungle of a lawn” from their veranda on the 20th floor. “Absolutely shameful,” they’d say. Not sure if Toronto’s residents are so hung up on those sorts of details but it stands to reason that there are at least a few citizens who are meticulous about the city’s lawns.

Anyway, KPMG had another suggestion:

KPMG says the city could wait for more than five centimetres of snow before clearing parking lots and pathways, although there would be increased risk of “slip and fall claims.”

Of course Canadians are little tougher when it comes to the snow, so a couple more inches of snow is probably NDB. But with the offset of increased “slip and fall claims” this could be a net zero effect.

But the best savings idea of all? Those zoos and “farm attractions” that your kids love so much? Those should probably go too:

“Consider elimination of the zoo and farm attractions . . . Some zoo and farm attractions could be closed, however, these are enjoyed by many Toronto residents,” the report states.

Happy families out on a Sunday be damned! There’s a fiscal crisis to be averted! The city still has to decide whether to implement these suggestions but if they do, KPMG will have crying children to answer to. Ones that aren’t employees.

Close small zoos and Riverdale Farm, consultant suggests [Toronto Star]