Academic journal article The Public Manager

Hunkering Down under the Big Sky: A County Administrator Offers Cost-Saving Measures and Contingency Plans for Managing with Lower Revenues

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Hunkering Down under the Big Sky: A County Administrator Offers Cost-Saving Measures and Contingency Plans for Managing with Lower Revenues

Article excerpt

Undoubtedly, many public managers are scrambling to identify cost-saving ideas and to otherwise cope with the economic malaise that has gripped our country While the impact of the downturn is far from uniform, most jurisdictions are probably confronted with declining revenues and financial uncertainty. In the Rocky Mountain west, we tend to feel the impact of economic decline later and are typically behind on the recovery curve as well. Indeed, certain areas appear to be insulated to a degree. Gallatin County, in southwestern Montana, is beginning to feel the pinch, and this article describes some of the cost-saving measures that have been implemented along with contingency plans to deal with lower revenues in the coming fiscal years. As we move through subsequent stages of the fiscal crisis, it will be useful to continue a broader dialogue that features innovative ideas and best practices associated with managing in lean times. In addition to practitioners and scholars, our various public administration associations should continue to help facilitate this dialogue.

As of late January 2009, the actions of the federal government to reinvigorate the economy have had little discernible effect. The new administration hopes to stimulate recovery either through new bailouts or an infusion of infrastructure funding, which should trickle down to the local level. However, the magnitude of problems such as massive budget deficits, spiraling debt, and the looming insolvency of our entitlement programs is difficult to ignore. Resolving these problems may take decades, and national legislators have demonstrated no inclination to address these potentially catastrophic fiscal issues. David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General, has been banging this drum for years to little or no avail. Now, the mortgage and banking crisis has risen to the fore, and the recession will exacerbate these systemic economic problems while adding new fiscal challenges. Quick and simple solutions to these compounding problems are not likely to be forthcoming. In short, our financial problems are especially vexing at this time, and the remedies will be costly. Bearing that cost, in tandem with other major budgetary challenges, is likely to result in relatively austere local government fiscal conditions for quite some time.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, thus far, the effective bipartisan collaboration we had hoped for has failed to germinate. Perhaps by the publication date of this journal, things will have improved. Political inertia helped to get us into this condition, and effective policymaking will be needed to overcome the massive challenges that confront our nation. This would seem an appropriate time to set political agendas aside and focus on restoring long-term financial stability.

Maintaining Local Government's Fiscal Integrity

During the last year, housing prices have fallen by the largest percentage for any year since the Great Depression. Unemployment is rising almost everywhere, and many employers, including local governments, are contemplating a temporary moratorium on hiring and raises. A growing number of businesses are closing, restructuring, or falling behind on payments, including those for Community Development Block Grant-supported loans extended by local governments. Investment portfolios have declined precipitously, and lending is increasingly constrained. The borrowing capacity of many jurisdictions has been seriously compromised, and when credit is available, it is likely to be more costly, especially for those with less than a triple-A rating. All of these trends are having a deleterious impact on the ability of local government to maintain service levels. What can we do individually and collectively in this troubled economic climate to maintain the integrity of our local governments and protect the public interest?

Gallatin County is a relatively small jurisdiction, with approximately eighty-eight thousand residents, that has experienced rapid growth over the last ten years. …

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