A YSLPR Interview

YSLPR: Please tell us about a policy issue that you anticipate will be challenging in the coming year. Is this due to a lack of innovative solutions or because of impediments to implementation?  

City Official, mid-sized Midwestern City:

(1) Criminal and civil justice reform at a local level.  A combination of a new area of research – much of the work has been focused at the state and federal levels – and involves the larger cultural shifts that reform at other levels involve.

(2) Educational reforms, and financial support being provided by local municipalities.  There are some examples where cities have directly invested in education – or where the local school district falls under the municipal governing structure – but few opportunities to learn from other cities that have targeted funding to an independent school district with key reforms as well.  The process for this public conversation would be particularly interesting.

(3) Determining how to align economic development tools and programs with goals to create more equitable outcomes for residents. Challenge will likely be due to inexperience with innovative solutions, but could also be due to impediments (political, financial, legal) to implementation.

Mayor, small city in the Mountain States: We have to adopt an agreement with our county to set a cost sharing standard for the County Detention Center.  Currently we receive unlimited free housing for prisoners arrested or sentenced in municipal court.  The cost to the county annually to house city prisoners has been very high.  We need an agreement before this becomes a law suit.

City official, large city in the South. Determining the role of local government in affordable housing. Given the restraints of being a Dillon’s rule state, what should local governments be doing to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing in our state? In areas that have multiple public agencies involved in housing and serving the same people – for example in our city we have the City, the County and the Housing Authority – how can the role of each agency be maximized? Does the penny tax for affordable housing change the maximized roles, and is it possible to give another agency the tax and have them build, own and operate affordable housing?

City Manager, large city in the Rust Belt. Encouraging mobility and pedestrian access through all times of the year and having a walkable city including during snow weather conditions.  How can we keep sidewalks snow plowed and bus stops clear for increased use of transit?

Mayor, mid-sized city on the West Coast. Consideration of work to be done for beautification and utilization of a creek that runs through the city. Challenges revolve around a lack of scientific and logistical agreement on what can and should be done as well as indefinite and widely disparate public opinion.  The challenge is intrinsic to any dealing with a needed result affected by a lack of identifiably proper steps to reach it – and an inability to predict public acceptance and response. There are “innovative solutions”. Problem is there are more than one and starting on a definitive path has no consensus of critical mass to actually justify action.

Councilwoman, Midwestern capitol city: We have just gotten our city moving after about 50 years of being stuck.  It’s exciting.  At the same time, our tax revenue is not noticeably increasing yet.  If you look around, we are waiving increases in property tax and sales tax right and left on projects.  No wonder!  And now some people, eagerly, are encouraging all sorts of local and out-of-town folks to come up with projects and ask for incentives. Our guidelines are pretty well written…..still…..  Is there a guideline for when you have enough of a good thing and you can start saying “no”….dialing back your incentives?

Mayor of a large Midwestern City. I recognized that the fiscal success of our City would depend on whether or not we invested significant public dollars into private single family homes within our existing neighborhoods and essentially treated homes similar to public infrastructure.  …In summary our property valuations are growing at just over 2% a year while expenditures are growing at over 3% a year on average.  What may seem like a small 1% gap has occurred for such a long time we have had to raise property tax rates and cut services. I often talk with residents about our preference that their valuations go up faster so they build equity in their property and we can actually lower their tax rates. 

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