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Portrait of the Intern as Somewhat Dense

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By August Caravalho, on June 14, 2011

I fear some of you, dear readers, may feel that I have been neglecting documenting my day-to-day experiences in this blog. Surely, you say, a summer in Budget and Evaluation at the City of Charlotte is not all garbage trucks and water treatment plants, providing for the citizens of Charlotte by personally turning the gears that make civilization possible. Really, what do you do all day?

Well, in a word: Excel.

In several words, I sit at my computer and identify certain numbers to type into cells in Excel spreadsheets. These numbers come from documents I locate on the internet. Some of these numbers are difficult to find; others difficult to understand. I also attend meetings from time to time and eat lunch. And that’s pretty much my day. It’s better than it sounds.

The most time consuming project I’ve been working on has been a survey of the revenue structures of the twenty most populous council-manager cities in the United States. As we’ve discussed before, Charlotte is a big city, and among its council-manager kin it is the sixth biggest in the country, behind Phoenix, AZ; San Antonio, TX; Dallas, TX; San Jose, CA; and Austin, TX. Lest you think that sounds unimpressive, you could certainly call Charlotte “the largest council-manager city in the southeast.”

All of these cities, indeed all cities, run their business with the proceeds from a variety of funding sources, from the standbys of property and sales taxes to more exotic personal property taxes and tax increment financing districts. Being located this summer in the Budget and Evaluation Office and receiving this assignment from the Budget and Evaluation Office, I persisted in believing that the revenue information I sought would be located in city budgets. During my first three weeks here, any time I made for this project (which was quite a bit) was spent rifling through budgets. My small but not insignificant experience with city financials from Greg Allison’s governmental accounting class gave me a certain (though ultimately misguided) confidence, especially as I recognized key terms like “governmental funds” and “modified accrual.”

Unfortunately I continued to run into the persistent issue that I could not find the information I sought. At least not in an easily accessible and understandable format. Where was the table of sales tax summaries? The assessed value percentages? The breakdown of the dedicated property tax rates? I found myself googling and googling, pulling portions of information from the budgets, from meeting minutes, from newspaper articles and—CAFRs. When I came across my first Consolidated Annual Financial Report on the eighth page of a google search, my stomach dropped. Inside was all the information I was looking for, more or less standardized and emblazoned with the endorsement of the GFOA. My hacking at those budgets had been in vain.

After turning that corner, the prognosis for the success of my project improved.

Currently, my spreadsheet is evolving nicely, growing row after column after sheet of numbers and percentages. I have learned a few tricks, about how to drag formulas around and reference content from sheet to sheet. And I also have become somewhat knowledgeable about the great diversity of local government revenues out in our country.

I’ve been busy this past week so I’ll have to leave it at that. Next week I’ll have a run down on the recent passage of the FY 12 budget (protesters!), a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame (actually really fun), and yet another ride along, this one with the guys who pick up road kill (exciting!).

Here’s another picture of that amazing skyline:

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