Many local governments today face a difficult dilemma: how to stretch a reduced budget to meet the growing demand for more and better services, comply with new regulatory requirements, and cover escalating pension and infrastructure costs. A range of new technology solutions may hold the key.
The financial crisis that devastated many businesses and homeowners also hit local governments hard, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. By 2009, state aid and property taxes, which typically make up more than half of local revenues nationwide, covered a smaller share of local expenditures than at any time since the U.S. Census began tracking those two funding sources in 1972. In fiscal year 2010, state funding and property tax revenue for local governments declined simultaneously for the first time since 1980.
An Ongoing Challenge
Although budgets have been increasing slowly over the past few years, they are barely outpacing inflation. Meanwhile, cities are being asked to “do more with less” by lowering costs and increasing efficiency while expanding and improving their service offerings. Unfortunately, such demands coupled with reduced budgets often force local governments to make hard choices that lead to lost jobs and fewer services.
For example, in 2011 Ohio state officials cut Cleveland’s 2012 budget by $36 million, about 7 percent of the city’s annual general fund revenues. To cope with the cuts, Cleveland laid off more than 300 employees — more than half of them police officers and firefighters — and left another 145 open positions unfilled. The city also shut down five fire companies and six trash crews. Asking residents to wait longer for garbage and recycling collection is bad enough, but no city should be forced to seriously compromise public safety and emergency response because of reduced funding — especially when there are technology solutions that can help local government leaders avoid such dilemmas.
How Technology Can Help
One way to deal more effectively with the triple whammy of less money, rising costs and the demand for more services is to make use of new technology solutions that can streamline operations and increase efficiency by enabling key staff to do more with less. As a secondary benefit, technology can increase transparency and provide both constituents and elected officials with direct access to information, supporting the goal common to many cities for a more open government.
Automated agenda management solutions, for example, can help reduce expenses and improve the efficiency of internal processes by replacing many routine manual tasks with paperless solutions. As a result, local governments can eliminate wasteful duplication and repetition, save staff time and lessen the potential for human error.
Automated citizen engagement portals are another key solution. They provide unparalleled transparency and public access, refreshing automatically with the latest information and making it available to local citizens. Such technology solutions offer a high return on investment (ROI), enabling government leaders to return money to the budget while improving services and increasing staff efficiency.
These are just two of the innovative technology solutions that can help local governments run lean and meet rising community expectations in the face of unrelenting budget pressure.