Top 12 Local Government Issues in 2023 (revised)
The Problems Facing City Managers - Top Local Government Issues in 2023 (revised)
With the COVID-19 in March 2020, local government stopped. Physical quorums couldn't be conducted and decision making stopped. Cities needed to change their approach on how to conduct normal business.
As you read about the top 12 issues facing cities below, if you're a city manager, you will see specific examples that affect your city and your community members.
1. Moving To an Online Medium was a Challenge
Moving to an online medium for cities and their local communities was one of the first things that happened early in the pandemic. City halls were shut down, decision-making slowed down, and everybody including city managers needed to adjust to using video software like Zoom to conduct remote meetings.
Doing business using just email was very challenging. It was a case study example that not everything could be transmitted through email. For example, you cannot exactly vote via email, or sign checks to pay municipal vendors via email. It's been now about three years, and many municipalities have kept with digital versions of their meetings.
Their meetings are recorded and posted on YouTube. Some are embedding these videos within their website. The challenge however is to have a dedicated person or crew handle the audio/visual (A/V) needs of a municipality.
2. Send Information & Fill Out Forms Digitally
Traditionally, applications, licenses, and permits were filled out in person and on paper. Now in 2023, most city halls are open. However not everybody feels comfortable with doing in-person transactions. Younger people, like Millennials, expect to handle transactions online without an in-person visit.
A top priority is to give people the the convenience of filling out forms in a digital format. In doing so, it means that a City Manager can allow constituents to fill out forms 100% online. It streamlines the entire workflow, and eliminates some of the worry that comes with COVID-19. Therefore the challenge becomes tackling the task of converting all the PDF forms to digital. (Hint: there are some helpful companies that are in business of moving municipalities to a digital process *wink* *wink*)
3. Signing Forms Electronically
Another big challenge for cities, city managers, and their communities is having forms authenticated and signed. Even in 2023 it's not 100% obvious for constituents to digitally sign a PDF. I mean, have you ever done it for a municipality? (Most people haven't...yet)? Many people don't even know that municipal documents could be digitally signed.
One of the popular solutions that has a good brand is DocuSign. It provides the convenience and ease of use that people and businesses nowadays expect when signing documents electronically. Plus, it's really convenient when documents can be signed electronically.
When cities offer forms to their constituents for e-signing, it should be easy and obvious for them to accomplish this task. A feasible option to sign online with a digital signature is by using digital software like HeyGov. This allows residents to e-sign forms, permits and other applications. Those who use the iPhone/Android app can even sign form with their finger.
4. Sending Documentation To Local Governments Electronically
Uploading copies of official documents can also be a big challenge for cities. For example, a dog license requires residents to submit proof of a dog’s rabies vaccination record. An application for a Short Term Rental (STR) Permit usually requires proof of insurance for the property.
By providing constituents with an online form and application process, the entire application process can be streamlined. Constituents and businesses can upload digital copies of additional documents right from their phone or computer.
Many challenges in government can be solved through digitization. Transmitting information like proof of a rabies vaccination, makes life more convenient to your constituents and also for you!
5. Accepting Credit Card Payments Online (Or In-Person)
There's sometimes friction where residents have to fill out forms requiring payment. Traditionally, cities only accepted cash or check payments. Millennials rarely even have a checkbook with them, like their baby boomer counterparts. Times have changed and people want convenience, even if it costs a bit more in transaction fees.
Providing a way for municipal payments to be processed online is a huge convenience to residents. We polled dozens of municipal leaders in Q4 2022 and heard loud and clear that residents want to pay for municipal services digitally. One municipality did not accept credit card payments and instead had an ATM in the lobby of their city hall. The city administrator even admitted the people didn't like using the ATM, and had instead asked "can't I just Venmo the payment to the city?"
Needless to say, the desires of local residents are to have a digital payment solution. City hall can provide a way for people to make payments online with the write municipal vendor. When done correctly, the city can save time with automation. This is when the implementation of an online payment solution benefits not only the residents (who want convenience), but the internal operation of city staff. This then becomes a huge win with time-savings for government staff while simultaneously improving a city's fiscal health!
Providing Convenience to the Community
The best way to make the community happier is to give them the convenience they experience with other online services. This convenience is by allowing citizens and businesses to pay for government services with a credit card.
The nominal cost of this convenience can be passed down to the constituents so they can pay for the transactional fees. The fees are usually around 2.9% per of the total amount charged plus a per-transaction fee (like $0.35). These are the standard convenience fees that are collected by the credit card processing companies. A good way for a municipality to "sell" this service to residents is to let people know that the city isn't profiting off these transaction fees. Instead, the fees are collected by the credit card processing company.
6. Meeting Community Needs Online & In-Person
Millennials are the second-largest demographic in the U.S. after baby boomers. The number of Baby Boomers is expected to decline over the next five to 10 years, as a case study Millennials are a growing body.
In 2023, nearly one-third of all adult U.S. citizens are considered Millennials. Therefore it's an important challenge for a city manager to appeal to all demographics, while also providing for the needs and convenience of Millennials. The millennial generation grew up in a tech-heavy era, and everything is done through their phones. They can expect this type of service, even through cities.
Making Government accessible to everyone
The “digitization of government” does not mean that all services are put online at the expense of eliminating in-person and manual forms. Instead it means providing a hybrid solution.
Everything should be available both digitally/online, while also being available for an in-person and manual process. When using technology, it's important to give citizens access to services that are still available in-person. Cities need to have plans for both digital and manual processes to be used or implemented concurrently.
The best way for governments to accomplish something like this is to have a digital solution that also allows an offline/in-person component to it. One such solution that offers this hybrid solution is the one developed by HeyGov.
7. IT Security Concerns & Public Safety
Several years ago the City of Oshkosh in Wisconsin was reported to have been affected by ransomware. Apparently a city management received a phishing email that was "well crafted to appear legitimate". The staff member opened the email, which spread across the city's system and infected them.
This is a lesson for many communities as they rely on online services. In-house employees and staff need to be trained to recognize phishing attempts and need to practice appropriate security measures. Also, in-house staff may lack the experience in preventing hacking and phishing attempts, which are probably better handled by an outside company that specializes in cyber security.
8. Keeping the Technology Updated, Patched and Secure
There are many facets of technology used in a municipality, from the local wifi network, intranet, and each device connected to it (whether it be phones, computers, routers, or printers). This equipment is usually left connected 24/7 to the network and should be continually updated, patched and made secure to thwart any hacking attempts.
Email is a big gateway for hacking and phishing attempts. It’s crucial that cities have email services provided by a secured provider. Having a dot gov email address also helps with issues, since it provides a layer of trust to the community and local businesses and is less likely to be spoofed.
9. Election Information
People need to trust their vote for city council members counts and election results are correct. People should not feel dissuaded from participating in local elections.
The controversy and issues about electoral results in Russia and Ukraine and with Trump, people didn't trust the election results. It is an issue facing local governments. If there are questions and issues about trusting in regard to the Federal election, then there too could be questions around local governments. Providing safe, secure and trusted opportunities to vote is a big tenant in democracy.
10. Migration Across The US
More people are moving from higher-cost urban locations to rural areas, because of the new opportunities to work from home due to COVID-19. This greatly benefits the smaller communities and spurs economic development. Local governments can lead the way to provide better services and infrastructure to meet the expectations of these new residents.
11. Making Meetings Accessible for Everybody
Because of COVID we cannot guarantee that face-to-face interaction will return to what it was like pre-COVID. There will be some communities that might want to hold meetings only in person, but can't because of Omicron. A hybrid model is an answer.
This presents a problem when a city needs to balance accessibility with convenience. Online-only isn't inclusive to everyone if they do not have access to a computer or the internet.
If a city goes in-person only, some residents might feel isolated from participating in government. They might not be able to meet in person due to the times in which the meeting takes place, or because they fear catching COVID by attending in person.
A hybrid solution is the best of both worlds. Meetings can be broadcast online (allowing for audience participation) while simultaneously offering in-person meetings.
12. Municipal Staff Working From Home
An issue for some municipalities is that staff had to work from home during the Pandemic. Elected officials needed to adapt to an online-only format to attend meetings and to vote.
The transformation of the workplace in a short amount of time meant that it was confusing for so many people. Productivity suffered, especially for those local governments that weren't ready to go digital in a short amount of time.
Two years later, most local governments are still trying to find their groove of working from home and being productive and have ways to improve economic development.
How to Overcome the Issues of Local Government in 2023 and beyond
As you read through the list of the Top 12 issues facing local government, you'll see that almost all of them are key issues that can be solved with the right technology solutions and can boost economic activity and make your constituents happy.
ARPA funds were distributed to help pay for the solutions to overcome COVID 19.
Now in 2023, there are viable solutions currently available, like HeyGov and other technological advancements. These are solutions which are available now to help local government operate more efficiently and streamlined. They can put government (literally) in the hands of constituents and bring democracy to a post-COVID era.
Is your municipality faced with any of the challenges listed above? Would you be interested in seeing how they've been solved for other municipalities? If so, drop in one of our weekly "Drop in Demos". The HeyGov team would love to show you how you can rise above the challenges that face local government!