Cautious optimism high among cities
Being a midterm year, the news channels have been dominated by numerous mudslinging political ads — at least, that’s been the case on my local stations in northern Indiana. No matter who was elected Nov. 6 — I write this before election day — municipalities are still likely to face many of the same challenges they faced beforehand: budget constraints, crumbling infrastructure and tightening revenue sources.
Still, city leaders are optimistic about 2019, according to writer Denise Fedorow, who spoke with three mayors and one city manager across several states. Continued economic growth, the development of lands previously left vacant and the cultivation of strong downtowns topped their lists of current and planned projects. While optimistic, these city officials also remain cautious, the Great Recession not too far removed from their minds. Memories of the economic downturn have encouraged creativity and fiscal responsibility to not end up in such dire straits again.
As noted in Fedorow’s article, Inverness, Fla., has whittled down its staff and entered into more public-private partnerships while also outsourcing maintenance contracts where applicable. With Florida having low property taxes, such measures have stretched the city budget further and given it more resources to accomplish certain projects.
Some smaller municipalities are even outsourcing their police departments to larger nearby agencies, which are often better equipped. This has occurred in the past; however, in 2018 there seemed to be an uptick or, at least, more headlines on the practice. Writer Andrew Mentock writes on this trend and the economics driving it — possibly linked to rural communities’ struggles with the methamphetamine and opioid epidemics.
On the flip side of the trends spectrum, there are cities that are seeking to raise the minimum wage. Currently 40 counties and cities in Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, Maine and Maryland have done so. In her article on this trend, Catey Traylor notes, a minimum wage increase “could mean the difference between keeping or losing employees and the difference between employee satisfaction and low team morale.” Of course the rising minimum wage is not without its concerns, which Traylor addresses.
It will be interesting to see what 2019 brings for municipalities. The optimism is great to see after years of uncertainty and concerns that rebounds would not happen — at least not to the financial heights some cities had experienced prior to 2007. Of course some cities were hit harder by the recession, and some even experienced double whammies in the form of natural disasters, which made their recoveries even harder. But currently, there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, though caution seems warranted, particularly as Goldman Sachs warned in November the economy needs to slow down to avoid a “dangerous overheating.”
Hopefully, the economy will continue to thrive and 2019 will be a banner year.
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