Three Biggest Issues Facing Local Government

Around the World in Local Government – August 2014


Highlight the three biggest issues facing local government.

Brian H. – San Antonio, Texas

Structural Financial Issues: Reduced revenues from property taxes and the growing cost of services and aging infrastructure.

Climate Change Issues:  From extreme weather and water scarcity to displaced people and economic impacts

Technology and Innovation:  This isn’t really a bad thing, technology is fantastic in many ways, however, it can create a regulatory problem for local governments when many vocal parties want new technologies to be bound by ordinance in ways that protect existing industries.

Brian S. – Elk Grove Village, IL

The maintenance and repair of local government infrastructure including roadways, sidewalks, municipal buildings, and specifically water & sewer lines.  I feel as though I am continuously reading stories from around the country about an ageing infrastructure that is reaching its intended life span.  While residents are well aware of the conditions of the roads they drive on and sidewalks they walk on, they may be unaware of the conditions of underground lines.  I fear local representatives facing pressure from residents will continue to invest heavily in the above ground infrastructure and ignore underground conditions for too long (if they have not already).

Roadways should definitely not be ignored as they are also one of my bigger concerns. Traffic congestion and the physical toll it takes on local roadways was an issue I was unaware of prior to moving to the Chicago suburbs.  The issue has become increasingly clearer to me over the past two months.  As metropolitan regions continue to grow, there is continuous stress on roadways abilities to handle all the traffic put on them.  My concern specifically on the congestion is that I don’t know if public transportation will be able to ease all of this congestion in the coming years unless something is changed.  Whether it be special consideration (money) given to new forms of public transportation research or a heavy influx of funding is put in place to upgrade current methods.  Something dramatic needs to be done in the upcoming 10 – 20 years.

Local governments need to engage a younger generation of residents. I have yet to work for agency where I have heard a large opinion from younger local residents.  I find this very concerning, as there seems to be no opinion from an entire generation of individuals about how their local government operates.  Individuals seem docile on real issues that should matter to them and how their money is spent.  Engaging these residents should be a large priority for future public officials.

Marc N. – Roanoke, Virginia

Compensation: Local government professionals have long been accustomed to the mantra of “doing more with less” on multiple fronts, including personnel. But, as the economy steadily recovers, entities will be forced to reckon with the issue of stagnant wages and how to compensate and retain top talent.

download (1)Advancement: For all the talk of retirements and the need for succession planning, the reality is that no one seems to be going anywhere. This reality presents a double-edged sword for younger professionals who benefit from working with seasoned, experienced colleagues, but who also need to be mindful of their own professional development. This is especially true for those of us in our late 30s and early 40s, caught between the populous Baby Boomers and the equally as large Millennial Generation.

Permitting/Planning Processes: How many times have you been asked “When can I get my permit?” or “Why is the plan approval taking so long?” A number of local government permitting/planning staffs have reported being back to pre-recession numbers in terms of applications. However, they are managing this increased workload with staffing and funding levels decreased by layoffs and budget reductions. Throw in a complex and sometimes conflicting regulatory codes and you have a recipe for long delays and unhappy customers. How can local governments help planning professionals do their jobs both efficiently and effectively? This issue is especially poignant as the economy begins to rebound and development projects increase both in size and in numbers.

Stephen O’Brien – Canada

In Canada, some of the biggest challenges face relates to financing. There are constant budgetary pressures given that the local/municipal sector has limited taxation powers and the powers they do have are inelastic and inflexible. A more thorough review of funding the “who does what” in relation to federal, provincial and municipal responsibilities is overdue in Canada in my opinion.

Another challenge facing local government in Canada is similar to that which likely faces other global jurisdictions…climbing up from the 2008/2009 economic downturn. Our provincial counterparts, in some cases, are struggling with debt and deficit management and this leads to a trickledown effect on municipalities and local governments.

Finally, I would say that we are challenged by an autonomy issue. In some cases we are charged with managing important public services while in other cases we are seen as the “lowest” level of government or perhaps not one of the “senior” levels (not constitutionally defined like our senior counterparts).

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