Is It Time to Change? Strategic Considerations for Local Governments

By Timothy Doyle, on December 7th, 2023

Change is here and there is no avoiding it. The last three years have brought about significant changes in how, where, and when we work. In fact, the only constant we’ve seen in the last few years has been change itself. The Great Resignation has resulted in governments experiencing retirements of long-standing employees as well as a shortage of incoming staff. The speed of change and the shortage of resources require us to look at new ways of working to achieve our objectives.

It is crucial to consider how your local government can change to efficiently achieve objectives as well as attract and retain quality staff. Think about the where, why, how, and who performs time consuming important tasks for your government and how this work can be leveraged.

The Challenges

At all levels of government throughout New York State we’ve seen that early retirements have affected historical knowledge as well as the competency, timeliness, and efficiency of providing services. Equally, recruitment has been challenging as fewer and fewer accounting related students are coming out of college and local governments see challenges with finding personnel to replace their departed staff. Additionally, an increase in reporting requirements and other responsibilities continue to mount for local governments making it harder than ever to keep up with their tasks. A 2023 survey of state and local governments found an increase of 13% of government employees are accelerating retirement plans. In that same survey, 46% of the respondents reported difficulty in filling positions in their business and financial operations. Public sector organizations continue to face hiring challenges, as a higher-than-average percentage of employees either quit or retire.

As you consider how you can address these challenges, consider the following:

  • Automation Automation (often referred to as Robotic Process Automation “RPA”) is the use of software that is designed to accomplish simple-tasks that formerly needed to be done by the human workforce. Typically, these tasks are related to clerical work and data-entry for businesses and government agencies or perform tasks that are tedious and time consuming to save manpower and resources for municipal workers. RPA can take many forms whether a complex macro driven spreadsheet or a specific software that accomplishes a certain task, such as reading water meters. Utilizing these methods of automation results in many advantages such as consistency in the process, a faster more efficient process, and the ability to free up staff for other projects. Additionally, the next generation of local governments staff are interested in leveraging technology which makes this a recruiting advantage. In many cases, there is no need to buy additional software to accomplish automation. In our experience in consulting and auditing with hundreds of governments, the full capability of their financial software is often not fully utilized. Automation of reporting and data entry can often be maximized with some time and effort. We often see local government staff spending a significant amount of time migrating data from one software or reporting source to another on an ongoing basis. If you experience these types of projects, an automation strategy would save many hours and provide an opportunity for more meaningful projects with the time that is freed up.
  • Outsourcing Outsourcing doesn’t need to mean replacing your business office or individuals. However, it may provide opportunities for freeing up some of your staff to do things that they haven’t been able to get to and possibly redeploy them to assignments that are forward looking and allow your local government to lower costs and accomplish more. In recent years, we have all struggled with just trying to keep up with what we needed to get done. Our firm has assisted local governments implement these outsourcing strategies and overcome these challenges. Those outsourcing strategies include opportunities to supplement your staff or assist where staff have left without much notice. And while they may include financial activity outsourcing, there are many other solutions. As an example, public school districts may outsource transportation in the wake of bus driver shortages or food service in their cafeterias. Outsourcing provides opportunities to tailor your spending to only the period of time that is necessary and also utilize the specific experience that you require for the task at hand.
  • Reconfiguring your Business Office- Is it time to rethink how your staff works and whether there could be opportunities for more cross training? It may also be time to rethink whether all the internal controls that are in place are necessary or functioning properly. In many instances, we are performing the same internal controls and keeping the same environment that we’ve had for decades. It’s never too soon to take a fresh look at what you’re doing, what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re performing it. Take a fresh look at how your staff could be used in the most efficient manner. Consider whether your team’s experience has changed, the environment has changed. Your internal control environment is very important. However, we often note that many local governments have not assessed why they perform certain controls and segregate certain responsibilities for many years and there may be a considerable amount of overlap in these procedures and efficiencies that may be explored.

If you are able to attend the upcoming Association of the Towns conference, be sure to think about these strategies and ask your instructors how you could outsource, automate, or rethink your business office, or other departments for that matter. In addition to the local government’s fiscal activities, these strategies can be applied to many areas including code enforcement, grant management, budgeting, and justice activities. As you attend sessions in these areas, ask yourself and the instructors, “How can I implement an automation or outsourcing strategy?” Our firm regularly assists local governments in implementing these strategies and assisting them in catching up due to staff shortages. Automation and temporary or long-term outsourcing can be a game changer to reverse the challenges brought about in recent years.

If you need further guidance or have any questions on this topic, we are here to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to discuss your specific situation.

This material has been prepared for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Should you require any such advice, please contact us directly. The information contained herein does not create, and your review or use of the information does not constitute, an accountant-client relationship.

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