#NCLGBA20 Recap Series: Engaging and Learning Through “Tele-everything”

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our second #NCLGBA20 Conference Recap comes from Heather Curry, Budget and Evaluation Analyst, City of Winston-Salem.

Despite looking very different this year, the morning of the NCLGBA conference still held that same electric energy and excitement that I have come to associate with these events. While only one day and held entirely online, I knew I was still in for a day of learning and I was excited to see colleagues from around the state on the computer screen and Twitter timeline.

The day started with the Economic Update, presented by Dr. Michael Walden from NC State. He described the current recession as a “mandated recession,” meaning that it was caused by our need to distance due the pandemic, and not by an excess and subsequent correction in some area of the economy. Theoretically, this should make recovery easier – just undo the mandate and things will rebound – however, the unknowns of the virus (how exactly does it spread, what activities are safest, when will a vaccine be available, will it be effective, etc.) complicate the recovery. The projections he shared showed it taking until 2023 for North Carolina’s GDP to reach pre-COVID levels. In the meantime, our economy is likely to undergo a shift to “tele-everything” – telemedicine, telework, teleschooling – which could result in people reexamining choices about where to live – if you’re engaged in tele-everything, do you need to live in the big city, or can you still access those resources while living in a rural area?

Next up were the concurrent sessions. I attended Dr. Kara Millonzi’s session on budget ordinances. Having attended Dr. Millonzi’s Introduction to Local Government Finance course at the School of Government, I was expecting a nice refresher, but not necessarily any specific new knowledge from this session. However, my expectations were exceeded when we got into the final section on interim budgets. Essentially, if a local government cannot pass a full budget and tax levy by the July 1 deadline, the Fiscal Control Act does allow for limited interim budgets. The tax rate still needs to be set by August 1, however, so no ongoing continuing resolutions for this level of government! For local governments facing extreme uncertainty in their budgets that could prevent them from having a complete budget for a longer period of time, Dr. Millonzi suggested using a hybrid interim/full budget model, described in the image below.

After concurrent sessions and lunch, the conference picked up with the business meeting. Along with the usual items – celebrating new CBEOs and promotions, thanking outgoing board members, and welcoming new faces – our VPs also shared a statement from the Board expressing the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and highlighting past and ongoing efforts in these areas. The full statement is in the image below.

The afternoon rounded out with two more general sessions. First, The Quest for a Balanced Budget highlighted the ways budget development – especially in a pandemic – is supported by technology. As the panel cities worked to adjust to developing their budgets remotely, ever-changing revenue projections, and other pandemic challenges, they relied on technology to engage residents, run scenarios, and validate data. Even with all our technology however, most offices are still building budget documents essentially by hand. Additionally, documents remain a moment-in-time snapshot, rather than living documents. These areas could be the next great innovations in budgeting.

 

Like many discussions recently, the final session – Legislative Updates – had a somewhat different tone than prior conferences as much of the update focused on revenue changes and resulting COVID relief legislation and ongoing advocacy. Other legislative highlights from the short session include updates for NC DOT funding, support for struggling water and wastewater systems, regulations for robotic package delivery, and funding for workforce housing.

While the conference format may have changed, it was still a time to learn, engage the brightest minds in budget, and – in this moment of tele-everything – as close as we can get to seeing our colleagues from across the state. And that makes the first-ever virtual NCLGBA conference a success in my book.