The State of Local Government in the Pandemic Era

A guest post from OpenGov, a MACo Silver Corporate Partner:

How Local Governments Are Working and Where They Are Investing Now for the Future

Want the good news first? Local governments have done commendable work addressing the most urgent challenges to the way they work and serve their communities in the pandemic even while facing revenue shortfalls, according to the over 500 respondents to OpenGov’s State of Local Government Survey. As always, however, there is more work to be done beyond meeting urgent, first-order needs.

The other good news is over 60% of local governments represented in the survey are either using or considering CARES Act funding or other grants to upgrade their technology to better serve their community or improve workforce productivity.

What’s clear is that given operational needs, local governments must move quickly to align around initiatives if they want to take advantage of federal and state grant funding that’s available now to make needed investments.

Absorbing a One-Two Punch with COVID-19
From small counties to large cities, COVID-19 has landed a one-two punch of a healthcare and economic crisis. In response, local government finance leaders have focused on short-term solutions to bridge their revenue gaps while delaying decisions on more permanent cuts or tax strategies.

One-third of respondents expect a 4-8% decrease in revenue and foresee moderate financial adjustments to their operations and another quarter expect their revenue to decrease less than 4% and expect minor adjustments. However, a third faces a revenue drop of at least 8% and expects significant or major financial adjustments. Local governments with larger budgets appear to face more looming budget challenges.

 First-Order Needs Focused on Getting Back to Work Virtually

Over half are taking important steps to modernize processes and technology to meet first-order needs of enabling remote work and virtual meetings. A third are also adopting cloud-based workflows in areas like permitting, licensing, code enforcement and, grants management to protect revenue streams and keep their local economies open for business.

While timelines have sped up for adopting cloud-based technology to keep governments open for business. We also see urgent demand for investments in modern technology and processes to support the changing needs of local government workers.

When There is a ‘Will’, But Not a ‘Way’ for Change

While they have been busy building first-order resiliency, we see an “initiative gap”, across local governments surveyed, where strategies are not aligned to stated needs.

To meet the next series of challenges, and take advantage of state and federal grants, local governments need a strategic vision for modernizing technology and processes to support the evolving needs of their workers and their communities.

Initiative gaps emerge where respondents report that they want to see upgrades in the technology they use, their processes, and the way their governments recruit, retain, and train people.

Technology: Respondents share that their existing technology underperforms in key areas such as: report building and sharing capabilities, remote accessibility, access to data, and integrations across solutions, but few say their governments are actively investing in upgrades in  these areas.

Processes: Three-quarters report that they want to adopt modern technology that enables them to automate processes, but only 27% are investing to improve processes.

People:  Experienced government workers are more concerned about the loss of leadership as “baby boomers” retire than their younger colleagues (46% compared to 24%), but both agree that there is a significant training (72%) and recruitment gap to effectively upskill and backfill against talent gaps (66%).

Even as nearly two-thirds of respondents and their colleagues continue to work remotely, only 12% say their government could support full-time remote work on a more permanent basis to retain talented employees and attract new talent.

We leave it to you to survey your population and reveal where you have gaps between needs and initiatives and investments. Also, consider asking your employees how they feel about remote work and what their future needs and desires may be for this option. Finally, consider CARES Act funding if you have not already. The clock is ticking down to the December 30 deadline, and early movers are already making significant investments in the way they work and serve their communities.

For a complete analysis of the survey, go to: opengov.com/survey

About the State of Local Government Survey: Survey respondents represent 501 local governments, and they include: 113 elected officials and executive-level leaders, 238 finance leaders, and 149 finance staffers from small to large towns and counties across the U.S.

Contact Information: Stephanie Beer, OpenGov, sbeer@opengov.com

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