Visit the MSA COVID-19 Relief Funding Hub for the latest updates about relief funding initiatives in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings new challenges each day for municipal government leaders across the country. We can say for certain that none of us have a crystal ball that can reveal how long the crisis will last—and what things will look like on “the other side.” One thing we do know is that much of the recovery will rely on federal, state, local and individual efforts and programs. There are important and time-sensitive steps Minnesota municipalities can be taking right now to prepare.
Take an honest assessment of your community needs.
If you feel like you’re in constant “response” mode, you’re not alone. You may have placed your strategic priorities on hold as you focus on near-term cash and resource management. Ongoing actions being taken by various levels of government are affecting local decisions and resource availability. Municipalities may also be wary of taking on projects that may have a direct cost impact on residents, such as rate increases, assessments and tax increases. Now is the time to take stock: what did you plan to do this year, and what have you already completed? What is preventing you from operating most effectively? What are the priority projects now, and are they dependent on other factors? Take a look at the near-term answers to these questions, as well as the long-term opportunities.
This is the optimal time to review your emerging needs in response to the pandemic, but also the planning documents available to you and your municipality: your capital improvement plan (CIP), comprehensive plan, master plan(s), strategic plan, and any other resources you use to keep your community running. Review compliance schedules. Leverage your trusted community partners to perform a candid, realistic evaluation of your 2020 goals. Determine what you can delegate and what needs to be performed in-house—and by whom.
If you don’t have a CIP, work with community leaders to develop an interim document guiding priorities. Ensure communication is flowing between any and all city departments so that key projects are identified and listed, even if a funding source is not yet identified or available. Involve your community stakeholders in both the needs and resource discussions to the greatest extent possible during this time of temporary office closures and social distancing.
A trusted consultant can help develop this document and provide regional perspective, particularly as it pertains to bundling funding sources to develop more “shovel-ready” projects.
Focus on “shovel-ready” projects.
While the COVID-19 crisis is not directly analogous to the 2008 recession and the resulting American Recovery and Reinvestment Action of 2009 (ARRA), past experience dictates that “shovel-ready” projects — projects where planning, engineering and permitting had been done in advance — receive priority.
Because the goal of emergency funding programs is to roll out that funding effectively and quickly, the focus is often placed on currently identified needs, distributed through existing funding agencies and programs. To have a seat at the table, you need to be ready for construction as soon as the funding is available.
Continue to pursue existing Minnesota funding programs.
When the ARRA program was rolled out in response to the 2008 economic downturn, one of the clear channels for the funding came through existing state and federally funded programs. MSA helped secure millions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans that year to help municipalities fund their critical infrastructure needs at a time when municipal resources were stretched thin. Projects that were on the existing priority lists and in application pipelines from the previous year were suddenly in line for funds at levels previously unavailable. But, the time frame to act was short. MSA staff went over and above to help communities prepare facility plans, plans and specs, receive variances, and prepare applications to quickly be able to access those programs and address those needs.
Be proactive in determining your funding sources and options based on known, funded grant and low-interest loan programs, as well as any new or emerging funders and programs. Identify critical projects that your community can’t afford to delay. A trusted consultant can help you identify the most strategic way to phase your projects to capture the most funding dollars and can help you stay informed as opportunities develop.
COVID-19 funding is coming, in various forms, with more anticipated. Housing programs are receiving additional funds. Grant programs such as those to help with firefighter and emergency personnel equipment needs have received more funding. Infrastructure programs are in the works. You can also position your community to recoup COVID-19 expenses and losses. Tracking these expenses now can position you to be reimbursed if and when resources for reimbursement become available.
Leverage your networks.
Your residents and business are looking to you to keep community operations humming. No matter your staff size, keeping up with the daily (and sometimes hourly) changes can be daunting or just plain overwhelming. Fortunately, we’re all in this together, working toward a common goal: creating and maintaining strong communities. Maintain open lines of communication with your networks and build a group of trusted advisors. Recognize and acknowledge the challenges you’re encountering as well as the successes you’ve realized.
How we help.
The MSA team is ready and able to provide any assistance you may need along the way. Helping communities navigate everything from operational challenges to strategic capital planning to getting projects built — and finding the funds to make plans a reality — is what we do, and what we enjoy.