The Michigan State University Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy and Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), both in East Lansing, are partnering with finance experts from around the state to produce fiscal strategy memos and guides to assist local governments in navigating the new environment produced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first resource memos cover topics such as budget strategies using federal CARES Act funds, strategies for short- and long-term fiscal sustainability, strategies for managing operating expenses and spending cuts, and the potential effects on property taxes.
“In non-crisis situations, our government and community vitality team helps locals incorporate long-term planning and strategic goals into their budget process,” says Eric Walcott, state specialist for MSUE. “We hope these resources are useful in helping local governments adjust to the current reality while making decisions that reflect their long-term goals and priorities.”
Among MSU’s partners for the project are the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in Ann Arbor and other public finance experts from universities, consulting firms, and research institutions from around the state.
“This crisis, combined with the ongoing municipal funding challenges in Michigan, will require an even greater effort on behalf of local officials and administrators to quickly assess resources, respond to changing policies and legislation, and develop the tools and insights to maintain sustainable operations and budgets,” says Stephanie Leiser, leader of CLOSUP’s Local Fiscal Health project.
As the pandemic continues, more federal and state legislation and policies will be implemented, impacting the response to COVID-19. MSU and its partners hope the guides will prove helpful for locals navigating the changes.
“The guides provide not just up-to-date information but a set of ideas and tools to help local governments strategically navigate the new fiscal landscape,” says Tom Ivacko, interim director of CLOSUP.
The guide will help local officials with navigating federal relief funds, how to best use them for expenditures, the differences in the forms of federal relief, and how to apply them. The partners hope this information puts local governments in position to protect their communities and take on the economic downturn.
“Locals are already challenged to provide front line services to cope with this unprecedented, fluid situation,” says Shu Wang, assistant professor at the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at MSU. “With revenue losses inevitably on the horizon, these local governments are now expected to do more with less. By scholars and practitioners sharing information and collaborating on projects, local officials can make more informed decisions, enhancing efficiency, equity, and sustainability of public service provision.”