In a recent ICMA webinar, presenters Nina Vetter, district manager, Pueblo West Metro District, Colorado; Jim Mann, senior municipal advisor, Ehlers, Inc.; Austin Good, assistant to the city manager, Lone Tree, Colorado; and Kennie Downing, city administrator, Baraboo, Wisconsin, talked about the financial picture and outlook of our economy, paired with strategic ideas, questions, and programs to proactively address the fundamental changes needed in local government at this time. They discussed reorganizing an entire local government around pandemic and economic recovery goals, using existing economic development funds to support local businesses, and transitioning to a telecommuting-friendly organization.
So, what’s next?
We cannot afford to keep doing business as usual. Whether your local government is facing budget shortfalls this year or your local economy is taking a hit, every organization is feeling the effects of the pandemic. In the webinar, the presenters discussed thinking more strategically and long-term, rather than just turning to the “easy” answers that may temporarily solve your issue. As a follow up, we’ve identified some key areas to focus on, as well as key questions to ask your staff, community partners, elected officials, and yourself.
1. Now is the time for leadership that supports and encourages innovation and change.
We may not ever return to “normal.” We should be more focused on how our organizations come out of this better, stronger, more resilient, effective, and efficient, rather than when and how we’re going to reopen. If you haven’t yet, tap into the talent and skill you have in your organization to rethink how you operate. Your employees and your community partners hold the secrets to innovating and changing to better serve your community, so are you asking questions to empower your teams to make the change?
- If you could reinvent the services you provide the community or if you could rebuild from the start, how would you do it?
- If you could change anything you do as a local government to better support your community, what would you do?
- What would you do to make it easier for you to get your work done and for our community to get the services they need?
- What steps would you take to better serve your community right now?
- How can our organization support you better as employees, not just now, but in the future?
2. We often talk about prioritizing – in budget, projects, programs – but now we need to really prioritize.
These are certainly harder conversations, they are potentially uncomfortable, and they are the ones you should be having right now. As we discussed, when we are forced to cut budgets, we tend to lean on the obvious (hiring freeze, cut professional development and training, delay maintenance projects, etc.) but how many of us are stepping back and asking if we need to adjust what services and programs we’re actually providing.
- Any program or project that doesn’t work well with social distancing and/or use of face masks is going to be a challenge and perhaps not even possible for months, the remainder of the year, and maybe into next year – can we redeploy those resources?
- What capital projects or maintenance can we not afford to delay – and then how do we redeploy other resources (see above question) to fund those key projects?
- Do we have areas of duplication (i.e., cashiering in multiple locations) that can be centralized?
- How do we maximize the returns on the assets that we do have (fund balances)?
3. Plan YOUR economic recovery.
Every community is facing a different economic condition. Across the board globally, we know that we are facing economic woes, whether its unemployment, closing of local businesses, or lack of tourism tax dollars to support your community. You, as a local government organization, can plan with your partners what your recovery looks like. In some instances, it is using available funds to loan to small businesses, in others its moving forward with key economic development projects.
- How are our local businesses doing? And how can we support them to keep them afloat, if we can?
- What key economic development projects have momentum and still have private support that would help our economic recovery?
- How are our community members doing? Do we have high unemployment? Do we need to seek to increase or support more employment opportunities for the community?
- Are we reliant on tourism dollars and, if so, how are we going to pivot quickly to encourage local spending, offer virtual tourism engagement, and incentivize future tourism increases?
For more on fiscal and organization strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, listen to the teleconference and download the presentation slides from the webinar by visiting the Local Gov Life Episode 11 page.