Few individuals are clamoring to become the next mayor of a major city in the U.S. It is, without a doubt, one of the hardest jobs in the country. Funding is such a concern that positive economic projections are quickly overshadowed by the reality that state and federal funding assistance is being radically reduced or eliminated completely. City leaders, in the past, have relied on state and federal funds for all types of critical projects. That is no longer an option. According to a recent National League of Cities report, most city officials have significant concerns.
In Texas, as well as many other state legislatures, municipal governing issues are a major focus of discussion. Texas legislators have introduced bills that would mandate many new restrictions and regulations on cities. Bills to cap local property taxes, revamp public school funding, regulate transportation programs and withhold millions from cities that reject state mandates have been introduced. It is a precarious time for city leaders.
At the federal level, President Donald Trump recently released a federal budget that cuts millions from state and local programs that have a wide-ranging impact on municipalities. Suggested cuts include total elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program and other grant programs that have been in place for decades. Cities have relied on these funds for programs that provide meals for seniors and the homeless, housing assistance for low-income residents, critical infrastructure project upgrades, deferred maintenance of public facilities and expansion of economic opportunities through creation and retention of jobs. If the current budget suggested by President Trump passes as written, many smaller cities would likely lose hospitals and the grant funding that keeps local airports viable would be stopped.
Credit rating agencies are looking at deferred maintenance issues and unfunded pension responsibilities and are threatening to reduce credit ratings if these problems continue. Mayors responding to the recent survey said that “hard work, innovation and collaboration” may be the only way they can improve economic vitality and maintain some degree of fiscal stability. They were quick to point out that the challenges are great.
Economic development ranked number one in priorities for the respondents. Other issues of significant concern were unemployment and the city’s ability to attract new businesses.
Ranked number two as a critical issue was public safety. Increased criminal activity related to gun violence, outrage against law enforcement officials, aging of emergency and fire department vehicles and equipment all point to additional funding needs.
Other top concerns include:
- Infrastructure – safe drinking water, safety of city roads and trails, transit development, rail, storm water issues and multi-modal transportation;
- Education – K-12 funding, workforce development, graduation rates and school infrastructure and safety;
- Housing – affordable housing and homelessness issues;
- Environment/Energy – sustainability through energy efficiency, recycling and increased renewable energy usage;
- Demographics – inclusiveness, immigrants and population density and
- Technology – aging networks, efficiency through cloud computing, cybersecurity and smart cities innovation through the use of data and technology.
Citizens have become accustomed to cheap water, good roads and affordable power. Most don’t want to see fee increases or major changes occur in their communities. In spite of that, taxpayers know its past time to rebuild much of the country’s infrastructure. Without public funding, new and innovative ways to ensure citizen services will become the way of the future. Changes will occur and fees are likely to increase. It’s not hard to see why there are not dozens of strong individuals eager to become city leaders.