New Year’s resolutions for local governments
As it did last year, the financial crisis will continue to make decision making more difficult for officials who seek to meet demands for service while balancing troubled budgets. American City & County asked the readers of its weekly e-mail newsletter what is the most important thing state and local governments can do to best serve the public in 2011. Below are some of the responses.
“Local governments and the public sector in general can best serve our communities by being creative, proactive, efficient and cost effective as we have generally been in the very trying 21st Century. We must challenge ourselves and our employees to look to the future and be prepared for the changing face and scope of government. We should privatize where necessary and, where service can be continued [by the local government], focus on core/mandated services. [Also, we should] work with state and federal governments to lessen the mandate burden on local governments and reduce property taxes. Professionalism and paying it forward, along with volunteerism, should be the watchwords and call to arms in this second decade of the 21st Century. Self reliance and dealing with issues and problems, not deferring or delaying decisions, and being careful stewards of the meager resources we are entrusted with, must continue to be our clarion call. It will take team work, collaboration, true cooperation and more consolidation/rightsizing for many local governments and their key officials to first survive and then eventually thrive.”
— Jay Gsell, county manager, Genesee County, N.Y.
“I think all salaries above $100,000 [annually] should be frozen during this time of economic crisis. I think that, as public servants, we should be serving the public. It should not be about getting wealth.”
— Carlton Harris, project manager, Broward County, Fla., Water and Wastewater Engineering Division
”[Local governments can best serve their communities] by further developing and expanding E-Government services to citizens via the web, 24x7x365.”
— Brian Kelley, chief information officer, Portage County, Ohio, Information Technology Services
“The best way that local government can serve the public is by taking a close look at what services are being delivered and how efficiently they are being delivered. Now is the time that local governments need to evaluate what the core services are and [whether] they [are] being delivered properly. It is important that local agencies evaluate how budget cuts affect other actions, because there are often expensive and unintended side effects. Budgets should be built up from the delivery of those core services and not torn down from the previous year. Those services beyond the core should be carefully evaluated to see if they are something everyone is willing to pay for. I hope to see new and innovative ways to finance additional services in the years to come.”
— Anthony Smith, administrative analyst, Oakdale, Calif., Department of Public Works
“I believe that local governments that invest in a horizontal growth in their property tax base will be in the best shape in the long run. Little we do today can make next year better, but we can do things that will make 2013 and beyond better. Raising taxes on existing properties and improvements is not a good answer. We must do things to incentivize new construction and business growth. This will enhance the property tax base and provide funding for demanded services in the future. We must also avoid new debt and new ongoing obligations. Now is not the time to build new facilities that will cost thousands or millions to operate.”
— Rick Stauts, executive director, Florida City, Fla., Community Redevelopment Agency
“We need to change how we do business. [Along with simplifying government operations, identifying the critical outcomes and remaining flexible,] we must make strategic technology investments. Imagine a virtual human services center where folks can create a network of support services that includes local non-profits, the faith community, businesses and government, [and] that can be accessed easily through a phone or PC. Perhaps folks can make choices that take pressure off government resources because community resources are easily accessible.
— Paul Fleissner, director, Olmsted County, Minn., Community Services
“In this time of unprecedented challenge for local governments, I think local governments can best serve the public by being completely open to input from the public as to what the public considers ‘essential services’ and completely open to new ideas from whatever quarter about how to deliver those services most cost effectively. Autocracy and the mindset that the leader is the only one with good ideas have got to go. It is time to realize that all of us together are a lot smarter than any one of us.”
— Bob Slattery, director of Information Systems and Planning, Genesee County, Mich., Road Commission