Back to the Nov-Dec 2020 issue

Consistency Is Key to Community Resiliency

By Bart Fischer

A person jumping over hurdles.If there is anything we can learn from the events that have occurred this year, it’s that resiliency matters — in good times and in bad. And consistency is key in staying resilient. People often talk about resiliency in terms of environmental needs, but recent events have shown that there are many ways a city can become more resilient.

Financial resiliency

Financial resiliency means planning ahead. Have a solid fund balance during strong economic times, but don’t be afraid to use these funds during times of economic stress — it’s what they’re there for.

Consistency also plays a role in smart financial planning. Communities that are consistent in their tax policy approaches tend to be more resilient. A consistent tax policy allows residents to have a better understanding of what’s coming and eliminates the need for big tax swings or levies when funds are too low.

Also, be smart with programming. Introduce programs strategically so there isn’t a need to cut several programs at once under stressful financial times. Get started by getting in touch with your city’s financial advisor.

Infrastructure resiliency

From a public administrator perspective, expecting the unexpected should be second nature, and preparing for it should be a priority. Our communities experience wear and tear, and maintenance is required.

Putting off maintenance can result in larger problems that cost more to resolve. Instead of waiting for problems to arise, monitor infrastructure by making small improvements. Budget and plan for street reconstruction, develop and update comprehensive improvement plans, and stick to these plans as much as possible.

Expand the longevity of infrastructure through planning and stay nimble when necessary. Knowledge and information on infrastructure best practices can be gained by having staff involved in professional organizations that are monitoring these trends.

Workforce resiliency

When it comes to your city staff, focus on building a talent pipeline that will match the community’s needs. Building resiliency throughout your staff means less stress and gaps in times of turnover, retirements, or layoffs. Expect that there will be turnover and don’t be afraid of trying new things.

What was a staffing need five years ago may not be a need today, and restructuring or reorganizing can offer a fresh perspective on the future needs of a community or organization. Depending on the size of your staff and organization, workforce needs may vary. Stay informed of the local workforce resources available to you.

Elected official resiliency

Having an engaged city council helps streamline operations and will allow your city to be more resilient in times of council turnover. Create opportunities for collaboration between staff and councilmembers.

Evaluate how your organization onboards newly elected officials. It’s important to understand that councilmembers will have varying levels of knowledge or expertise about the inner workings of the city. Facilitate ways to bring them up to speed and build relationships.

Once your councilmembers understand your city’s goals, they’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions. Collaboration is easier when there is a level of comfort established.

Also, take the time to get to know the council candidates on the ballot even before they are elected. This will help you better prepare for the type of preparation or onboarding they may need.

Emergency management resiliency

Emergencies come in many shapes and sizes. Be prepared for anything and trust the experts around you. Develop emergency response plans but understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to every situation in all areas of the city. Tailor responses for different scenarios.

A tornado that runs through Main Street will require a different response than one that goes through a densely populated residential area. Staying nimble, making informed decisions, and building trusting relationships will better prepare a city during all types of emergencies.

Resiliency extends into many areas but is vital in shaping the future of a city. No one anticipated the challenges that 2020 would bring, but learning from and facing these challenges only creates more opportunities to plan, prepare, and strengthen a community for anything that arises in the future.

Bart Fischer is senior public administrator with WSB (www.wsbeng.com). WSB is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).