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Issues & options: practical ideas for local government leaders.

How does a city respond to revenue shortfalls, when they are accompanied by taxpayer belief that government programs are wasteful, citizen demand for continued services, legal constraints and mandated programs?

Clearly not by across-the-board cuts, argues Ruth Ann Bramsom, the author of a new publication by the National League of Cities. Such action debilitates the city's ability to provide service, reduces productivity, undercuts performance and makes municipal government employees more risk-averse.

And yet, during the past twelve months, 40 percent of U.S. cities announced workforce reductions and 44 percent froze municipal hiring.

"Rightsizing," rather than downsizing, is the answer according to Brainson.

What does this mean? It means cutting the workload, not just the workforce, prioritizing and targeting the most important local government work activities and eliminating unnecessary work.

How? On the management side, by developing multi-year revenue and service demand forecasting. Ranking all government programs so those at the top can be retained or augmented and those at the bottom can be reduced or terminated. Designing an integrated program to improve productivity, ration services and thus, bring revenue and expenditures into balance.

And on the political side? Public officials can take effective action to deal with cutbacks, according to Bramsom, only when they accept that the deficit is real and effectively convince others--especially citizens and government employees-of its reality.

Gaining citizen and city employee support for restructuring requires providing convincing information and involving citizens and employees in the process of deciding on the hard choices. Creating a community vision and identifying the core mission of the city government are essential.

A series of tools and techniques for analyzing a city's present situation and for achieving community consensus on priorities are discussed by Bramsom. Examples are presented of cities that have moved successfully to confront the reality of fiscal stress, reduce expenditures, increase efficiency, strengthen employee performance and achieve a new community consensus on what local government should do and not do. A bibliography of the best sources of additional information is included.

"Rightsizing, Not Downsizing", by Ruth Ann Bramson, is the premier issue of ISSUES AND OPTIONS; PRACTICAL IDEAS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEADERS, a new subscription service available from the National League of Cities. Future issues will cover "Interlocal Revenue Sharing", "Local Government Employee Telecommuting", "Municipal Ethics: Ordinances and Practices" and "Geographic Information Systems".
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Davis, Bill
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 21, 1992
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