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EUNA Solutions, Funkhouser & Associates

Event Description

Event Recap:

The main takeaway
Our conversation centered around capacity building: Participants spotlighted areas where local governments can take proactive, forward-looking and collaborative steps to address constraints in resources (including revenue and structural deficits), staffing and management as well as community investment (including steps to foster engagement, transparency and trust).

We heard about creative ways to address limited flexibility in revenue generation, tapping into grants, and identifying opportunities for shared services to mitigate fragmentation and generate economies of scale.

Rethink Resources: Share to Augment Capacity
Many assembled local leaders described successes in sharing resources/services with other municipalities or local agencies: From processing systems for bookkeeping to joint-purchasing for vendors to fire services shared between neighboring municipalities or recreational facilities shared with school districts and libraries jointly funded with county and state funds. Big ticket expenses like stormwater authorities can also be tackled collaboratively: “We have four municipalities on board now [for stormwater management],” noted Eileen Cipriani, Business Administrator at the City of Scranton. “This is a key thing in our county to pull everyone together and do regional projects in the Scranton area.” When done correctly, “it would be a win on both sides,” said Cipriani. David Sanko, Executive Director of of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), noted that “…it has to make sense for taxpayers on both sides. Partnerships need to go both ways.”

Grants administrators could be a shared resource as well, which is germane to the concerns attendees expressed regarding obtaining federal or state funding, deploying grants impactfully (by designing regional approaches), and keeping up with onerous reporting requirements.

Fostering collaboration between communities is not just an efficiency-play. Networked approaches are a core feature of antifragile organizations and communities. And effectively using taxpayer resources signals competence and generates trust.

Suggested Reading

IDEAS TO CONSIDER

  • 💡Rethink budgeting, link strategic priorities to financial plans, pay attention to the fund balance and have honest conversations with colleagues and residents to generate awareness and appreciation of what things actually cost.
  • 💡On navigating federal funding opportunities: Warner Macklin with Fox Chase Advisors, LLC. suggested connecting with Tom Perez, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
  • 💡“Government isn’t just the officials, it’s everyone throughout the system. On federal programs, you don’t know what you don’t know. Through public bidding, you can find a consultant to fill in the gap to do what you can’t do. You need to have comprehensive studies in place to secure awards in federal programs. Modernize your systems and engage your partners, so you don’t spin your wheels and get nowhere,” said Jamar Kelly, Deputy Managing Director, City of Reading.
  • 💡Practice “extreme financial management:” Centre County Commissioner, Mark Higgins described ways localities can be more money-savvy stewards of taxpayer dollars, such as placing funds in laddered CD’s for investment gains, or going solar: “We power our correctional facility with solar. It will save us $8 million over its usable life.”
  • 💡Ben Estell, Borough Manager of Dormont, recommended communities should take advantage of conservatorship programs. “You can take control of bad properties in your community. We can invest and flip them. We don’t have blight in our community, because we have gone to the courts to acquire the home to flip it. The other benefit is we have seen a major influx of building permits from the other properties around the improved property.”

Rethink Management: Organizational Learning
Leaders also described challenges with both hiring or retaining talented personnel and engaging staff to get their buy-in on new systems, processes and working with new technology. Competing in the post-Covid labor market requires competitive wages and improved work-life balance, and that is something even cash-strapped localities can deliver. Focus on supporting staff not only with compensation but also with continued training and professional development. “We should not brag about hiring a manager at the cheapest we can get. We should want the best people and not be afraid to pay them their worth,” suggested Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo. Ben Estell described how the Borough of Dormont built an organizational structure, “so current employees told other people to come work for us. It’s a better place now. We invest in giving better benefits… [including family and bereavement leave]. We also support staff going to training.”

Additionally, patience but persistence is key for institutionalizing technological change. On the topic of staff being resistant to novel technology, Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter advised, “you can’t be afraid to have difficult conversations with staff… You have to start somewhere to change a culture.” Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti added that “you need to have patience to see change.”

Implementing new solutions should be done in partnership with staff and in ways that add value and ease the workload. Consider organizational assessments and employee surveys, as described by Centrice Martin, Ferguson Township Manager, to pinpoint areas where modernization could improve processes and outcomes. Start with the what and the why. Technology will help with the how.

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Rethink Community Investing: Involve the Community
The group shared a number of ideas on community investment, including modern pedestrian infrastructure for improved walkability and to benefit local commerce, public safety improvements, land banks, development projects to address blight, and intergovernmental initiatives. Bottom line: Investing locally will encourage additional investment and cascading benefits.

Jamar Kelly shared that Reading through the Legacy Cities initiative is using neighborhood-based strategic plans to avoid displacement of residents and generate equitable benefits. Investment that earnestly serves the community must start with meaningful community engagement. And municipalities may need to learn new ways to connect with residents post-pandemic.

Mayor Slaughter described efforts in Williamsport: “We are starting to invest in properties, starting a boys and girls club, and looking at a holistic approach from housing to early childhood education and childcare. We have been fortunate in Williamsport to do a lot of relationship rebuilding after mismanaging money. In spite of that, we are able to talk to agencies and make things happen in your community by rebuilding trust. You do that by investing.”

As State College Mayor Ezra Nanes noted, it’s about “showing up and creating opportunities for the community to come out and want to be a part of.” The borough is putting together a grant program for small businesses and developing ways to activate their downtown and mobilize business and retail as well as property owners in the process.

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This event is hosted by Funkhouser & Associates with support from Euna Solutions.



Agenda

12:00 PM Networking Lunch 12:30 PM Welcome & Introductions Opening remarks by Mark Funkhouser, President, Funkhouser & Associates 12:45 PM Facilitated group discussion We’ll explore a number of core priorities we have identified based on interviews with local officials from across the Commonwealth. Participants will explore these issues from a point of view of capacity constraints (staffing, fiscal, ability to implement and deliver on policy goals) and we will aim to surface strategies/tools to address those capacity challenges. Building fiscal health & sustainability Rethinking the budget and minding the balance sheet Generating revenue: growing a strong economic base Tapping grants and other funding opportunities and managing them for sustainable impact Investing in the community Leveraging procurement as a tool for collaboration and local economic growth Mobilizing resources and vendors to deliver on capital projects and housing needs Supporting organizational learning Leading through (culture) change Modernizing systems and processes for better employee engagement and recruitment/retention 3:45 PM Wrap-up 3:50 PM Adjourn

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Additional Details

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Event registration closed.
 

Date And Time

11-30-23 @ 12:00 PM to
11-30-23 @ 03:45 PM
 

Registration End Date

11-30-23
 

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