In The News

Since its launch in May 2014, the National Resource Network has garnered national and local media attention that highlights its work around the country and cites the impact of these efforts on communities. Coverage has included a focus on the Network’s beginnings, highlights of its innovative features, research it has produced, and in-depth looks at the Network’s technical assistance efforts in cities around the country. Recent coverage of the Network includes:     

Salinas council likes 'tough' suggestions on taxes, benefits but worries about feasibility

SALINAS CALIFORNIAN; By Joe Szydlowski; December 5, 2018

SALINAS, California -- A report suggesting benefit cuts, tax and fee increases and other ideas for Salinas to address a looming $60 million deficit received support at Tuesday's council meeting. But it isn't yet clear whether its fate will be different from previous studies on Salinas' budget woes.

The National Resource Network's 214-page Salinas Plan offers ideas to relieve Salinas' gloomy budget outlook, which predicts pension and health care costs will put the city in the red by 2023. It suggests Salinas pick a cheaper basic health plan, have its employees contribute more to their retirement and health benefits, explore a storm sewer fee as well as possible ballot tax measures, consolidate special pays and paid time off, change some policies and explore leasing or selling some city property. It also suggests using some of the savings to increase pay in order to attract job seekers. The plan included an assumption that 2.5 percent cost of living increases will continue and a recession is in the near future, Branson said.

At the Tuesday council meeting, members of the public and consultants asked the council to begin implementing the ideas from this and previous studies, such as the study on public safety overtime.

"These are difficult things to do," Branson said. "... You do have a problem, you do need to act... There is time to avoid a crisis." Though some attendees took issue with specific ideas, the public comments supported the plan overall.

Mayor Joe Gunter said the network's study will "become a major part of our strategic plan" at a public council meeting on the strategic plan Jan. 26. Without any action, Salinas' deficit is projected to hover around $1 million to $4 million through 2022. That would eat up all of the city's current $10 million reserves, Branson said. By 2028, the deficit would swell to $60 million, he said.

Out of 32 proposals, the most important are addressing employee health care costs, consolidating or eliminating certain paid leave policies and implementing a storm sewer fee to end $1.8 million in costs to the general fund per year, Branson said. "If you don't do those major ones, it's going to be tough to bridge that gap," he said.

Salem first for SRN consortium

NEW JERSEY MUNICIPALITIES; By Mayor Charles Washington, Jr; November 2018

SALEM, New Jersey -- It was exciting for Salem City to learn that we were chosen to be the first municipality participating in the NJ State Resource Network (SRN). We were selected from among more populated municipalities with deficits that far exceeded ours, but the one advantage we knew we had was that we already had a plan to address our economic recovery. Despite our existing plan, we knew we still needed assistance to fully maximize opportunities and ensure momentum would not be halted. A lot of our success has been due to sheer grit and determination of creating a better Salem for our residence, knowing all along that our efforts weren’t sustainable without help. 

Being named to participate in the SRN, a consortium of private-sector and non-profits with local government expertise in identifying strategies, stakeholders, and partnerships, ensured tangible and sustainable results. The consortium has brought short-term resources to the city that are helping us to capacity-build through networking. We are identifying partnerships that have mutual interest in Salem City thriving that will ultimately have an impact on those stakeholders.

We have created dialogue through the SRN with our school district, County government, state agencies, civic, faith-based and non-profit leadership as well as small business owners. Having everyone at the table is critical to evaluate what resources are at our disposal to support a plan that will bolster our economy and provide opportunities for all stakeholder and the community. Together we’re working through the consortium to develop an economic and financial plan that supports the plans already being implemented in the city.

Working through the SRN, it’s our goal to produce an economic plan around key priorities that will attract and retain residents and workers while growing business. We want to grow the tax base through rateables and increased employment, but in a manner in which the results are sustained. Financially, we are hoping the consortium helps us achieve fiscal sustainability through long-term financial planning and economic competitiveness. Our financial goals are to leverage economic development opportunities through our competitive advantage of having a port.

Salem understands the needs of businesses to remain competitive on the global stage while keeping jobs here at home. This requires thinking that goes beyond just location and tax incentives, it requires financial and workforce supports via new and innovative partnerships. This is why our Commerce Department appointed an International Trade Representative to work on sister port partnerships, both domestically and internationally, that will open new markets to companies locating in Salem.

The Port of Salem is taking all the strengths of the public sector in supporting the opening of new global markets for companies and combining that with the strengths of the private sector in providing financial and logistical platforms that help realize expansion into these new markets. The desired outcome is to combat poverty and lack of employment opportunities that undercut the city’s budget and long-term sustainability. We believe as a result of our current and forthcoming plans, we will make a major economic recovery in Salem City–with the assistance of the SRN.

It’s our hope that at the conclusion of this initiative we will be presented with a working document that gives us guidance to become self-sufficient, while relationships will be built and strengthened at all levels of government to assist us in advancing the City of Salem and meeting the needs of our residents.

The silver lining behind ‘dire’ report: Officials who are willing to act

THE ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR; By The Editorial Board; Octoober 13, 2018

ROCKFORD, Illinois -- Taxpayers want good roads, they want to feel safe in their own homes, and they want economic prosperity.

To achieve that in the city of Rockford will require a break from the traditional way government services are delivered and paid for. The status quo is not working. Besides, if Rockford officials don’t change the way they do things, the city will run out of money in five years. Not 20 years from now. Not 10 years from now. Five years.

Before you panic and tell your Realtor to put up a for sale sign, know that you have a mayor and City Council who are committed to acting to fix the city’s problems before they become dire. That’s why city officials sought the advice of the National Resource Network. The NRN report that aldermen saw Tuesday is not so much a wake-up call as a call to action. City officials already knew how bad the financial picture was, but they needed help from an outside group — a fresh set of eyes — to identify possible solutions.

The National Resource Network is an organization of national urban policy experts that supports economically challenged cities. It has worked with Rockford officials since January. The Network's Executive Director David Eichenthal offered as a bottom line that Rockford must do things differently and do different things.

Rockford’s leadership is willing. Other communities with similar challenges have sought NRN’s help but been denied because they weren’t willing to make necessary changes. Rockford is.

What those changes will look like remains to be seen. NRN has offered options and the mayor and council will determine which options are best for the city and its residents.

NRN describes its process as “like a diagnosis your doctor gives you after a physical.” Just like a physical, it’s up to the patient to follow through to improve his or her health.

NRN’s 186-page report has more than 70 recommendations. That’s a lot to sort through. The report identifies total savings or new revenue worth more than $261 million. And that’s a lot of money that can be used to balance the city’s budget and provide better service for residents.

The NRN “Rockford Plan” is a seven-year blueprint for change. To us, it’s the right mix of urgency and farsightedness.

We don’t envy the task before city officials. They are going to upset some people and groups as they make difficult decisions.

As we’ve pointed out on multiple occasions, the mayor and aldermen live here, shop here and pay taxes here. They want a vibrant community as much — if not more — than you do.

They have some tough calls ahead of them. The future of the city depends on their abililty to make them.

Rockford Alderman hear sobering budget report

THE ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR; By Isaac Guerrero; Octoober 9, 2018

ROCKFORD, Illinois -- The city should consider shrinking its police and fire departments, closing a fire station and selling its water system to avoid running out of money in five years. And that’s just part of the bitter pill that consultants are prescribing for Rockford, which is nearing the edge of a fiscal cliff as its employee salary and pension expenses are outpacing its revenue.

Aldermen heard how to overcome that challenge during a presentation on Tuesday from National Resource Network — a consortium of nonprofit and for-profit organizations that helps cities solve pressing economic problems.

Rockford was among five U.S. cities chosen to receive the consortium’s help due to the city’s population decline and its high levels of poverty, crime and unemployment. What National Resource Network delivered is a sobering blueprint showing how Rockford can achieve balanced budgets over the next seven years.

It’s not likely that aldermen will enact all of the budget suggestions, nor will all of the chosen measures be pursued at once. The National Resource Network’s report is something like a menu of city services, said Mayor Tom McNamara. Ultimately, he said the City Council, with help from city employees and residents, will decide what municipal services there is an appetite for and at what price.

Among the consultant’s suggestions:

  • Eliminate 40 sworn police officers through attrition over the next seven years to put Rockford in line with comparable cities. This would be done, in part, by transitioning 18 non-patrol officer positions to civilian positions as sworn officers leave the department.

  • Evaluate fire station locations and study the potential to close a station. Reduce minimum firefighter staffing requirements and bring staffing in line with the city’s population through a hiring freeze and attrition of 27 firefighters.

  • Freeze wages for all city employees at 2019 levels or cap wage growth at 1 percent for three years.

  • Increase city employee contributions toward health insurance expenses, and incentivize employees to obtain health insurance elsewhere.

  • Make a one-time pension payment between $25 million and $100 million to dramatically lower the city’s long-term pension obligations.

  • Consider selling the city’s water system to earn a one-time windfall that could allow it to pay down its pension obligations.

Rockford’s expenses are projected to grow three times as fast as its revenue over the next seven years. If that trend continues, the city would deplete its budget reserves in 2023 and wind up with a $46.9 million general fund deficit by the end of 2025. Seven years from now, the city’s cumulative deficit would swell to $81 million.

McNamara said his administration will work with aldermen to adopt a budget for 2019 before the end of this year. All of the National Resource Network’s budget suggestions are on the table, the mayor said. Engaging the city’s union employees in the task that lies ahead is sure to be contentious. The 54-page summary of recommendations that National Resource Network gave to aldermen Tuesday ends with a blunt bit of advice:

“We understand that the city enjoys good relationships with its employee groups and the concerns that these relationships may suffer if the city takes tough bargaining positions. The reality is, given the city’s financial condition, the city may have no choice.”

New vision emerging for downtown revitalization


SCRANTON, Pennsylvania -- For many years, the city of Scranton faced a variety of challenges. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was or wasn’t. What matters is that our city and region must continue to move forward because we are all in the same boat. As the city becomes more vibrant, bustling with shoppers and people eating in local establishments, a sense of pride and optimism follows when you find a specialty item from a local merchant or enjoy a wonderful meal in your favorite restaurant.

To support the revitalization of our downtown, Scranton Tomorrow is positioned to be the economic driver for revival. During the last 12 months, Scranton Tomorrow, in association with a host of partners, including Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, city council members, the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and local legislators’ staffs, state Sen. John Blake and Lackawanna County representative, we have been meeting to identify a clear strategic vision. The process was led and supported by an independent third party, the National Resource Network.

In association with stakeholders including the University of Scranton, Lackawanna College, the mayor’s team, various corporations, downtown business owners and developers, Scranton Tomorrow’s staff and volunteers are pursuing strategies to include clean and green efforts, downtown revitalization efforts and promotional activities to attract people to the business district. In addition, we must find ways to leverage public-private partnership opportunities to support private investment in our city.

In order to support the downtown revitalization, a formal document with projects for the downtown is being coordinated so, as funding sources become available, Scranton Tomorrow will apply for grants to reinvest directly in the downtown. The vacant lot on the corner of Wyoming Avenue and Linden Street is a prime example. Working together with other parties, Scranton Tomorrow acquired $400,000 from the Keystone Communities program to revitalize the lot as a pocket park.

Without a good strategic plan and all parties working toward a common vision, that lot would have stayed an abandoned eyesore and the $400,000 would have gone to revitalization projects in other locations.

Our strategic planning and implementation effort has already resulted in tangible projects and it is our goal to have this success lead to a business improvement district to be managed by Scranton Tomorrow. As the warmer weather approaches, it is nice to see partners and stakeholders all rowing in the same direction. I expect that this trend will continue because it is easier to make progress as we all row together. 

Cleveland Heights prepares legislation for Community Development Corp


CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- City Council will move forward on a collaborative with the local nonprofit Future Heights to create a Community Development Corporation. The work with Enterprise through the National Resource Network began right around the time Future Heights presented a $139,000 proposal in December to run the CDC -- over and above the $30,000 it already receives separately in Community Development Block Grants for other programming.

Nobody Wins if Hartford Goes Bankrupt


For Hartford, the threat of bankruptcy is real. Other cities have structural deficits — where growth in expenditures outpaces growth in revenue. Hartford, however, also faces an immediate cash flow crisis. Structural deficits can be solved over time. Cash flow crises require immediate action so that the city can pay its bills. 

Earlier this year, the National Resource Network — a federally funded consortium of urban experts — was brought on to help Hartford identify options to achieve fiscal sustainability. As the General Assembly considers proposals to aid Hartford and the city council debates budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, here are some of our preliminary findings. 

It's not just Petersburg


Over the past three years, a consortium of urban experts from the private, nonprofit and academic sectors has worked to equip local governments with innovative strategies to build operational capacity, foster collaboration among stakeholders and boost competitiveness to produce economic benefits. Launched under the auspices of the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities and backed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Resource Network is the only federal program that provides comprehensive technical assistance to cities, including guidance on fiscal management. The network offers the playbook and the coach, helping city leadership set realistic priorities, goals and a starting point for the recovery process.