Baby Steps: 14th Annual Municipal Survey

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

Issues
As mentioned earlier, cities have many concerns going into 2011. But when asked what will be the most important issues facing cities in 2011, the majority of answers were related to money.

A Florida municipal respondent pointed out that their city was still facing “shortfalls in the budget.” In Colorado, one city reported not only are they struggling to “maintain the budget,” but are also wrestling with trying to find and train new employees to replace the long-term employees who recently retired.”

From Michigan to Oklahoma, Georgia to Oregon, respondents commented on their local battles to raise user fees. Said this respondent from South Carolina, “the need to rehabilitate our old sewer and water lines is critical, but the pressure to not raise rates to cover those costs is huge.”

Said this respondent from a city in Kansas: “There are strong financial concerns – we have a lot to fix but its tough finding funds. We continue to raise rates.” This city employee from Wisconsin stressed that funding infrastructure maintenance has become very difficult as “property values are declining and that affects the borrowing capacity of municipalities.”

“We’re being asked to make do with current funding levels,” said an Arizona city official. “Our biggest problems are budget constraints and a poor economy for new building (commercial and residential),” observed this respondent from Washington state.

“Meeting the terms of a consent order,” was cited by this person from a Pennsylvania city. Another city representative from Tennessee stressed that “new, unfunded government mandates at both the national and state level are a serious issue.” This opinion was echoed by several respondents.

The struggling economy has also produced a unique problem for several cities as delinquent sewer and water bills continue to pile up at a record rate. Other major issues included health insurance costs, personnel shortages and the cost of construction.

Even before the recession and resulting budget crunch, cities were always struggling with generating and acquiring funding to maintain, repair and expand their infrastructure systems as needed. Not surprisingly, 2011 has seen the gap between budgets and needs grow substantially. On average, cities now estimate they need at least a 33 percent increase in spending just to maintain current service levels. About a quarter of responding cities said they needed a budget increase of at least 50 percent or more to meet their needs.