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:     

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.