Funkhouser & Associates hosted a series of roundtables with local government officials this year, in partnership with ResourceX. Leaders in Virginia, Texas and Florida convened to learn and share ideas about ways to align resources to meet community priorities and ready government for future challenges.
Read the recap from Orlando, Florida below to find out more about what leaders across the country are doing to use budgets proactively and support sustainable growth.
The big takeaway:
Being smart with the money means prudent management of your resources and aligning those resources with community priorities. In other words – local governments must watch their financial condition (how are we paying for things now?) while also cultivating fiscal sustainability for the long run (what is the impact of our resource decisions 5, 10, 15 years from now?). Ask yourself: What is the budget doing to the balance sheet? And does the budget allow us to invest in things that will generate revenue and/or reduce cost down the line? As Chris Fabian outlined in his closing, a government will feel good about the budget it has adopted – rather than just being relieved that it’s done – if the budget has the makings of a plan for long-term community prosperity and resilience.
– To find out where investments are being made and if they’re making a positive impact, look at resource allocations less in terms of line items and more in terms of programs and desired outcomes.
– Clearly defining key challenges, priorities and goals for the community requires cross-functional teams, engagement with residents and tracking progress through data.
– How do you mine from within to drive innovation? Preparing for emerging priorities (for example, through climate impact assessments) can provide a rationale for setting aside general fund dollars which can be leveraged to match federal grant funding for novel and transformative investments.
– Read the Essential Guide to Priority-Based Budgeting
Investing in employees:
Like most local governments around the country, Florida cities and counties are facing chronic staffing shortages. Managers are tackling the issue on both the recruitment and retention fronts. This includes revising job requirements to attract candidates with leadership potential and emotional intelligence and allow on-the-job training for “teachable skills.” Participants also described efforts to shorten the processing time from application to hiring decision. Lastly, salary increases are required in many cases to effectively compete on the job market. That requires not only management support but working with elected leaders to change political attitudes around investing in a well-paid, high-performing workforce.
– State and Local Workforce Survey 2022
– F&A frequently writes about local government workforce issues, see here or here, for example – and check out our library of articles for insights on a range of topics relevant to public sector management.
This is another difficult nut to crack for localities, especially those experiencing rapid growth and increased pressures on service delivery. One challenge is to frame conversations around the budget and resource decisions in ways government staff and the community experience the budget (going back to the earlier point about discussing needs, priorities and goals rather than line items). Another challenge is an increasingly charged political environment and residents who take out frustrations on frontline employees. Participants discussed the importance of having a designated public information officer who is present and visible in the community and works to communicate and mediate. Another way to connect to residents is through building relationships with community organizations, like HOAs, which can help keep residents engaged and informed. We also highlighted the work of Dr. John Nalbandian regarding the difference between administration (professionals focused on data and process) and politics (leaders focused on symbols and stories). Persuasive communication between the two requires gathering evidence and connecting that evidence to anecdotes and stories that fit with a person’s ideology. I referred to this as “the troika.”
– GFOA report: Bridging Political Divides in Local Government + Rethinking Budgeting Initiative
– F&A’s Liz Farmer’s newsletter: Bridging partisan divides through budgeting
– ResourceX 2021 Impact Report
– F&A has teamed up with the Drucker Institute to support the City of South Bend, Ind., on laying the groundwork for and implementing community engagement for the city’s comprehensive plan, which includes raising awareness about financial issues and baking fiscal sustainability into planning and spending decisions. We’ve summarized some key insights here.
– A recent article we wrote about “the politics of budgeting.”
Data and performance:
As our conversation highlighted, local governments have access to lots of data, though oftentimes that information needs to be gathered and synthesized in more intentional ways. It’s a more elusive task to make sense of the data and derive value from it by translating insights into action and measuring progress toward desired outcomes. We heard from Miami-Dade County about creative data partnerships (e.g. sourcing data from publicly available databases like Zillow or Redfin and partnering with entities like Mastercard to track financial indicators and anticipate and prepare for economic trendlines). Making decisions based on data requires identifying the internal processes that impact those results and establishing benchmarks for continuous improvement (as the City of Miami did with its business license application process). Data also must be disaggregated to pinpoint areas of underperformance or identify underserved populations.