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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 Fort Worth, Texas 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 aligning your resources with your priorities and finding ways to deliver value to the community in resource-constrained environments. As Chris Fabian outlined in his closing, that means: getting the right data on what your resources and priorities are, determine the outcomes you want, focus your money in that direction and look for ways to partner and leverage relationships for more regional aspirations.

Development growth, revenue constraints, and fiscal sustainability

Texas is growing, but growth is largely concentrated in the Texas triangle, whereas counties and cities outside of the region may actually be losing population. Because new development is exempt from the state’s 3.5% cap on annual property tax increase rate, there is pressure to grow to keep up with inflation, rising costs, and demands for services. Where growth is limited, the options to either reduce services or ask for more taxpayer money tend to be politically unviable. Each city must determine for itself the right balance between fiscal restraint and saving for rainy days on the one hand and investing in long-term, critical infrastructure and development on the other. Debt is one crucial tool for major capital projects, and a way to spread out the cost for investments which will benefit generations of people. But there are more ways to reallocate resources by identifying efficiencies, collaborating regionally, and finding common ground based on facts (and less on emotions). Officials must focus on communicating the facts, addressing “the real issues,” which requires analyzing the evidence and making data-informed decisions.

Recommended reading:
– F&A’s recent article on Budgeting, politics and the soul of the city
– Mark Funkhouser: Let My People Go! Letting a City Control its Own Destiny
– Liz Farmer: The Overshadowed Plight of City Budgets
– GFOA report: Bridging Political Divides in Local Government + Rethinking Budgeting Initiative
– ResourceX 2021 Impact Report

Invest in people: engage and empower staff, focus on the line of sight

Investment is not just about money—it’s about value, culture and leadership. As Plano HR Director LaShon Ross put it (quoting her grandfather): “Nothing beats a good understanding.” That’s why effective communication is crucial to set expectations and build accountability between management and staff—as well as councilmembers and city employees.

The quiet quitting trend impacting local governments around the country often points to a lack of engagement. While cities and counties may not be able to compete with top-paying jobs, they can emphasize the value and impact that draws people who want to play a meaningful role in their community. Manager training and City Manager listening sessions, as implemented in the City of Plano, reflect the need to listen to employees, equip employees with the skills and tools to do their job effectively as well as the need to come together around organizational goals and values. Communicating with staff on their role and impact and recognizing the expertise frontline employees contribute can counteract burnout by driving collaboration, process improvement, and creating a direct line of sight to how one’s work impacts the community.

Recommended reading:
– F&A frequently writes about local government workforce issues, see here, here, or here for example.
State and Local Workforce Survey 2022
– Liz Farmer: Wooing the Next Generation of Government Workers

Relationships, trust, and community wellbeing

Public service has more stakeholders and is messier than other sectors. That’s why engagement is so critical to ensure it’s not just special interests driving decisions but that investments are made to benefit the community in the long run. As McKinney City Manager Paul Grimes outlined, a city may be experiencing economic growth, but sustainable economic development requires more than just allocating incentives to politically connected developers. It requires the data to know which incentives and investments will yield a return for the community at large. And it requires an activation of social resources, leveraging community partners, and capitalizing on workforce development. Smart and sustainable investments may not be the most popular choices, but they must look at community wellbeing in a more holistic way that includes mental, emotional, and physical health in addition to material benefits.

Examples participants mentioned include:
One Heart McKinney – an innovative, public-private collaboration to assess ongoing community needs and rally resources to address those needs.
Tarrant County Unity Council – a multi-sector collaboration to support equity and inclusivity in health outcomes by addressing social determinants like housing, transportation, access to goods and services, etc.

Transparency and accountability are essential for building trust; data down to the ZIP code level is critical to develop evidence-based strategies and demonstrate impact. Staff need to determine data needs in advance, tell the stories and impact based on the use of data, and create systems to collect information across sectors and agencies. Assistant Director of Family Health Services J’Vonnah Maryman (Tarrant County Public Health) emphasized that staff and elected officials must also advocate for policy and legislative changes if needed to advance outcomes and meet the needs of all residents, especially those at risk as measured by the social determinants of health.

Recommended reading:
– Brookings article: Improving quality of life—not just business—is the best path to Midwestern rejuvenation
– GFOA Rethinking Revenue Initiative: Entrepreneurial Thinking in Local Government
– The New Localism: What Follows Infrastructure Spending

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