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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 Newport News, Virginia 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. 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, direct your money in that direction and look for ways to partner and leverage relationships for more regional aspirations.

The state of local government finances:

There’s a misperception that local governments are flush with cash when in fact, many still are recovering from the pandemic. This lack of understanding around how local governments function is widening the state/local chasm when we should be looking for ways to build relationships in Richmond and with constituents.

Recommended reading
– Research paper: Remaking Federalism: How States Can Realign and Rebuild a Stronger and Healthier Union
– Mark Funkhouser: Let My People Go! Letting a City Control its Own Destiny
– Liz Farmer: The Overshadowed Plight of City Budgets
– Brookings article: Improving quality of life—not just business—is the best path to Midwestern rejuvenation
– Research paper: Quality of Life in Micropolitan Areas

Engagement in the budget process: 

Communicating effectively about government spending means making it relatable. Consider different ways (for example, through resident surveys or a city hall “Open House”) to engage and educate your community on how their government is working for them AND to understand where it can do better. Talk about “bite-sized” pieces of the budget rather than a discussion around large sums that are hard to digest. Effective engagement will help zero in on the real priorities of your community.

Recommended Reading
– GFOA report: Bridging Political Divides in Local Government + Rethinking Budgeting Initiative
– Liz Farmer 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. Our efforts aim to expand on South Bend’s annual “Build the Budget” process, which you can learn more about here.

Accelerating reinvestment in capital infrastructure:

A one-time cash infusion (such as American Rescue Plan funds) can be used to jumpstart a capital spending plan. Consider a capital budget timeline that doesn’t tempt lawmakers to backload the more expensive projects in the last few years. For example, York County went from a 10-year to a six-year capital budget to even out the spending plan. Engage your community to understand what projects are needed first and communicate to them about what’s doable.

Managing the workforce crisis:

New hiring strategies in Virginia are similar to what governments across the country are trying. Targeting the younger generation with messaging around “making a difference” in their communities is a growing marketing/recruitment approach. Military spouses are also an untapped potential workforce. Bottom line, governments should adjust expectations of finding “lifers” and focus on finding the talent they need now. Also look to regional collaborations and job-sharing to consolidate needs.

Recommended reading
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 local officials.

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