Municipal staff in rural and suburban villages, towns, and cities have to be generalists. Larger municipalities have individual departments that handle budgeting, treasury, accounting, grant management, and so on, but in small cities, all of these functions are handled by one or two people. There is also a very small taxpayer base to pay for even small increases in the municipal budget. And of course revenue sharing from county and state sources has evaporated. Small communities are increasingly required to shift the burden, cut costs, or make do.
But the residents of these small jurisdictions still want high levels of municipal service (while simultaneously calling for stable or reduced tax rates and increased administrative access, responsiveness, and transparency). In addition, increasingly sophisticated and complex administrative requirements for financial reporting, pension reporting, health care, payment processing, grant tracking, etc. can be overwhelming to small-town staff.
Internal innovation may not always be the most cost-effective solution, but it should always be examined as a possibility rather than dismissed by default, especially by communities with limited financial resources. A municipal culture that is accepting of potentially unconventional ideas can foster unexpected solutions. By understand and making use of the web-based tools at hand, The City of Spring Breeze, Florida, was able to address one important area--improved financial transparency--by creating high-quality dashboard material at minimal financial cost.
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE?
Technology is a double-edged sword for small municipalities. The ability to use networks and software to increase individual productivity certainly helps keep total staffing costs from growing. But, given the limited funding base, it can be difficult to find funding for hardware and software, as well as the ongoing incremental maintenance and support costs. In small organizations, technology helps the existing staff do more, but since staff members wear so many hats, it rarely, if ever, justifies staff reductions.
The choices often seem limited to either increasing costs to engage the necessary expertise (e.g., staff, consultants, outsourced services and software) or reducing the scope of services and benefits offered. But there is a third option: developing internal skills that can foster innovation.
It may be true that "you can't manage what you can't measure," but small, innovative organizations understand that measurement alone is not enough. Staff members are most likely to innovate when they thoroughly understand the...