Public Servants to the Rescue

Public Servants to the Rescue

Pathway to Recovery® Series
Public Servants to the Rescue

We need to encourage more young people to enter public service because, when the chips are really down, it is always public servants who come to the rescue.

From the NYFD’s first responders on 9/11, to those brave men and women battling wildfires in the western states right now, to the FEMA hurricane relief efforts in the south, it is always public servants who have risen to the occasion when duty called. But all too often, public servants have taken a bad rap. In an oversimplification of a complex set of problems facing our communities, public servants often unfairly take the blame for high property taxes. But when you really need help, who do you call first? Public servants, without fail, in every single case.

If you ever have to make a desperate 9-1-1 call because of an emergency, a public employee will be on duty ready to dispatch the assistance you need. And, when you hear that siren signaling that help is on the way, you’re likely to bless the firefighters, police, or EMS responders that arrive in your hour of most desperate need. They are public servants, and they are funded by taxpayer dollars.

Of course, we rely on public employees for more than just emergency services. They also educate our children, plow our roads, serve in the armed forces, deliver much-needed (now more than ever) public health and human services, staff back-offices providing clerical services, and keep detailed financial records of how every tax dollar gets spent.

State and local governments have never fully recovered from the effects of the recession of 2008-2009, and they now face the additional challenges caused by COVID-19. Public sector payrolls have been steadily reduced over the past ten years, and vacancies can be hard to fill. New positions are almost impossible to get approved, despite a growing population and an ever-increasing demand for public services.

The steady but lackluster economic expansion of 2010 through 2019 brought no real relief to municipal budgets, and thus did not translate into job creation (or, more appropriately, job restoration) in the public sector. This has resulted in all those in public service being asked to “do more with less” in order to maintain and deliver critical public services.

If you have already dedicated yourself to a career in public service, we thank you. As Jacob Lew, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury said: “There is no higher calling in terms of a career than public service, which is a chance to make a difference in people’s lives and improve the world.” If we hope to attract the best and brightest of the next generation to public service, then we must help to transform the nation’s dialogue about people serving in government.

All of us should be encouraging the next generation to serve their community and to do their part to make the world a better place. It is also important that we lead by example when it comes to things like integrity, honor, and the value of being transparent and honest with those we serve.  We have an obligation to show that public service is an honorable and noble profession, and we should mentor new hires in the “best practices” that we have developed and learned over the years. The taxpayers of the future deserve nothing less.

The overwhelming majority of public servants are dedicated, hard-working, trustworthy individuals who decided somewhere along the way to commit their lives to making the world a better place, while still managing to earn enough money to pay their bills, raise a family, and contribute to their community. And when the chips are really, REALLY down—as they are right now—it turns out that public servants are the people you count on the most to save the day.

The author served for a total of 38 years in local government at the village, town, and county levels, including 18 years as a county Budget Officer and eight years as a Disaster Recovery Coordinator. As Director of Public Partnerships for three+one®, he can be reached at 585-484-0311 or by email at: wec@threeplusone.us

 

You Are Going to Need a Better Crystal Ball

You Are Going to Need a Better Crystal Ball

Pathway to Recovery® Series
A Better Crystal Ball

If you are a public sector budget officer, then this year you are going to need a better crystal ball. We can help with that.

I can appreciate the anxiety that municipal budget officers are feeling right now. Even in the best of times, putting together a spending plan for your organization that incorporates and addresses all of the “what ifs” that can happen between now and December 31st of the following year can be a daunting task. And the autumn of 2020 is definitely NOT the best of times.

I served as a budget officer for a small-to-medium size county in upstate New York for 18 years, and I had to deal with my share of challenges. In addition to the standard annual struggle to hold the line on property taxes while still providing much-needed services to the public, my rural community was still coming back from the economic impacts of the Great Recession when we were hit with historic flooding that swept through our scenic valley in 2011. Businesses closed, sales tax revenues fell, and some houses remained vacant and abandoned.

cashvest® by three+one® is like using a crystal ball for your entity’s finances

Covid-19 has presented us with challenges that none of us have ever seen before. There are many unanswered questions swirling about which compound the difficulty of making revenue projections for the coming year. Will Congress approve more federal aid to states and local governments? Will every municipality receive a fair and direct share of that desperately needed aid, regardless of the size of their population? Will the coronavirus be contained over the next two or three quarters, or will there be a second wave that could result in yet another blow to businesses struggling to survive?

Here at three+one®, we provide our clients with liquidity data and cash-flow projections that can help bring the financial picture into a sharper focus. We do this by equipping our clients with a broad range of financial technology tools. These can include our patented cashvest® liquidity monitoring and cash management system; access to our MC Forecast® cash-flow modeling tool which provides accurate, reliable data about what your municipality’s or higher-Ed institution’s cash position will be 6, 12, and even 18 months from now; and the option of utilizing our innovative rfpPrep® software that makes it easier than ever before to compare banking services and procure the best-performing and lowest-cost options that fit your particular needs.

The timing is perfect right now because besides providing you with a much clearer view of what your financial picture will look like over the next several quarters, three+one will also help you to immediately begin achieving real, significant financial benefits that can be incorporated into your 2021 budget. These include:

  • Increased interest earnings by helping you put every available dollar to work—and extending the timeline that you can lock in the interest.
  • Savings on bank fees by helping you to consolidate under-utilized accounts and embrace new banking technology measures that can help combat fraud.
  • Our liquidity data can help reduce the number of times you have to borrow for short-term cash-flow needs; that means lower debt service.
  • Higher credit ratings based upon the extensive liquidity data we provide can result in lower interest rates when you do have to borrow money.

Why not give three+one® a call? Our team of experienced financial professionals will be happy to help you polish up that crystal ball of yours and assist you in getting a more accurate picture of what the future holds.

The author served for a total of 38 years in local government at the village, town, and county levels, including 18 years as a county Budget Officer and eight years as a Disaster Recovery Coordinator. As Director of Public Partnerships for three+one®, he can be reached at 585-484-0311 or by email at: wec@threeplusone.us

 

The 20% Rule

The 20% Rule

Pathway to Recovery® Series
The 20% Rule

“Even if only 20% of the bones in your body were broken, you would still feel 100% miserable.”

Sometimes, 20% is a lot. Like when you are in pain. It can be a significant number in other situations as well. Imagine if 20% of the fuel in your car’s gas tank was mostly water. Or how you would feel if 20% of the food you ate for dinner was tainted.

Likewise, our economy cannot fully recover from COVID-19 if a substantial 20% segment of our nation’s economic engines are stalled and sputtering. That’s the percentage of our nation’s overall economic activity that is generated by state and local governments. The federal government is responsible for another 20%, and the remaining 60% of GDP is created by the private sector.

three+one economic pathway to recovery The total annual Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. is about $20 trillion.  That figure includes every segment of the economy—private industry, manufacturing, energy, government—from the hot dog vendor on the curb, to the boardrooms of the biggest corporations, to your local library. To put things into perspective, the largest U.S. manufacturing business is the automobile industry. The total economic output of the entire American vehicle production industry—including every car and truck manufacturer, and every parts supplier—is less than $1 trillion. That’s about 3% of the total U.S. economy.

By contrast, spending by city and county governments on goods and services equals just over $2 trillion per year (about 10% of the nation’s total GDP). And state governments add another $2 trillion per year (an additional 10%). Which means that state and local governments are responsible for a remarkable 20% of our nation’s total economic activity! The federal government spends about the same amount as state and local governments do combined, so the total impact of public-sector spending on necessary goods and services equates to fully 40% of our country’s GDP.

This massive government spending isn’t wasteful—it is vital to our economy and to our quality of life. Some examples might include building and maintaining roads and bridges so that interstate commerce can take place; operating hospitals and public health services to keep our families healthy; providing police and law enforcement to keep our communities safe; creating school systems to educate our children; operating colleges and universities to prepare the leaders of the next generation.  The list could go on and on to include fire protection in our communities; clean drinking water; parks and recreation; courts and the legal system; and human-services programs. You get the idea.

Government services—and government spending—is the enormous mainsail that propels America’s “ship of state” forward. Its huge 40% share is by far the biggest and most influential and impactful segment of our national economy, accounting for more than $9 trillion of our $20 trillion GDP. State and local governments combined account for half of that 40% share, so they play a major role in determining whether the economy is healthy. Or sick.

Which brings us back to why the federal government will be shooting itself in the foot if Congress stands by and watches as state and local governments struggle to deal with the revenue shortfalls brought about by COVID-19. These temporary revenue shortfalls are not anyone’s fault. They are not based on political party affiliation.  The coronavirus did this to all of us! Counties and cities didn’t bring this crisis upon themselves through wasteful spending or careless fiduciary policies. Quite the opposite. Local governments are, by and large, cost efficient, frugal, and the most responsible providers of critically important public services. After all, the people serving in those municipalities pay taxes too!

We all want to see the federal government act responsibly with our tax dollars. But providing direct aid to state and local governments is not frivolous. On the contrary, it is far and away the best pathway forward for our nation to make it through this economic crisis relatively unscathed. As I noted above, state and local governments make up 20% of our GDP. If they become crippled by budget crises, then they will have no choice but to eliminate services and cut spending. That will lead to higher unemployment, even lower tax revenues, and a downward spiral that will impact every segment of the American economy. It could take years, and even decades, to pull out of that kind of a tailspin.

three+one liquidity managementThe issues may be complicated, but the solution is clear. The best way to keep COVID-19 from derailing the entire economy of the United States of America is for the federal government to use its massive financial might to keep state and local governments afloat.

After all, even if only 20% of your bones are broken, you still feel 100% miserable.

The author served for a total of 38 years in local government at the village, town, and county levels, including 24 years as a County Treasurer/CFO and 9 years as a Disaster Recovery Coordinator.  As Director of Public Partnerships for three+one, he can be reached at 585-484-0311 or by email at: wec@threeplusone.us

Grab an Oar and Pull

Grab an Oar and Pull

Pathway to Recovery® Series
Because we’re all in the same boat now.

Rowing a boat takes teamwork, especially during a storm. It requires people working together towards a common goal. If half of the rowers are determined to head north, while the other half are just as resolved to head south, nothing gets accomplished—no forward progress is made, and the boat will never reach the safe haven of land.  

COVID-19 is very likely to be the storm of our lifetime. It’s too early to say for sure, but there is some chance that history will describe it as our “Storm of the Century”.  Either way, it is a tempest that is rocking the very foundations of our economy and our society. We are all sitting together in a lifeboat now, heaving and swaying as the storm rages around us. And we all have a responsibility to grab an oar and do our part to help our neighbors and ourselves if we’re going to make it safely to shore. We have much to be thankful for—our “ship” is sound and our backs are strong—and we have a common goal.

We must recognize that there are a huge number of heroes who are already pulling with all their might on their oars, and trying their very best to keep us alive. They are our nation’s healthcare workers, medical professionals, public health officials, and emergency responders. They are straining and struggling, putting their very lives on the line for us and our families, day in and day out.  Their hands are blistered and their muscles are weary, and it is our duty and responsibility to man our own oars to try to take some of the burden off their shoulders.

three+one liquidity analysisSome oars are more powerful than others and the rowers who hold them can make enormous contributions to the success of our journey. Members of Congress must put aside their political differences and pull together as one to help us make it safely through this storm. We need them to recognize that when one side of the boat rows in one direction and the other side rows in the opposite direction, the ship is dead in the water.

One thing that everyone should be able to agree on is that local governments are going to need substantial financial assistance during this pandemic if we are to have any chance at all of a really full recovery within a reasonable time period.  

As a former disaster recovery coordinator for a county in upstate New York, I saw firsthand just how critical federal funding is to a community that is struggling to get back on its feet in the aftermath of a natural disaster. With significant federal help (in our case, almost $100 million), it still took my community almost 10 years to recover from a devastating flood. WITHOUT any federal assistance??  We would still be running county offices from rented garages and using second-hand folding tables as desks. We would also be driving our local government deeper and deeper into debt as we tried to deliver necessary services such as law enforcement, road and bridge repairs, and public health. And trying to do all that with a taxpayer base that was already tapped out. Our boat would be leaking, foundering, and in serious danger of actually sinking.

We at three+one® are also doing our part to pull on the oars.  We help local governments make the most of what they have, so they can collect that much less from the taxpayers. We provide data and financial forecasts on the funds that a county or municipality has on deposit. That information gives them the opportunity to maximize the value of that cash.  For example, New York’s Orange County has been using our liquidity analysis services since 2018. Last year they earned $2.0 million MORE than similar-sized counties! That represents $2.0 million of public services and infrastructure improvements that did not have to be paid for by their taxpayers.  Another great example is Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.  They earned about $489,000 annually in interest before partnering with three+one® in 2017.  Last year Lehigh County earned more than $2.0 million in interest on their available cash – despite the fact that interest rates have actually gone down!

Each and every one of us can make our own contributions to help our communities and our nation make their way through this disaster. Though we must certainly address the public health crisis of COVID-19, we must also address the financial aftermaths that this pandemic will surely have on our society over the next several years. It is critically important that local governments receive direct federal funding now—before it’s too late—if necessary public services are to be delivered without interruption.

After all, we are all in this same boat together. It will take the willingness of each and every one of us to grab ahold of an oar, plant our feet firmly on the deck, and then do our best to pull in the same direction as the person in front of us and the person behind us. Our journey will be challenging, full of surprises, and potentially dangerous. But in the end, if we can all just keep the distant shoreline in sight and pull together towards a common goal, we can and will make it through this storm.

The team at three+one® is proud to partner with NACo as we jointly assist the nation’s county governments during these challenging times. To learn more about NACo and how it works with three+one® to develop financially sound solutions, contact Kyle Cline at kcline@naco.org or by phone at (317) 502-7415).

Despite Job Title, You’re Already Acting Like a CFO

Despite Job Title, You’re Already Acting Like a CFO

If you are reading this, you are probably already an experienced professional who is respected in your field. Your expertise may be in business management, marketing and sales, law enforcement, health care, insurance, construction, public services, or any of a dozen other professions. But what you may not know is that in many ways, you are also an experienced “Chief Financial Officer” in your own right and you are likely employing many of the tools used by the best professional CFOs.

My personal field of expertise is in Public Administration, specializing in government finances. For 24 years, I served as the elected Treasurer of Schoharie County, a rural municipality in upstate New York with about 32,000 residents. As the county’s CFO, I oversaw an annual operating budget of about $80 million and my fiduciary responsibilities included cash management, budgeting, liquidity analysis, investing of funds, future financial projections, and fraud prevention.

You may not realize it, but you are probably performing every one of these functions on a daily basis as well. Do you log on to your bank account on a regular basis in order to check your balances and look at recent payments to protect yourself against fraud or identity theft? If so, you are using “liquidity analysis” as a tool in fraud prevention.

When you log on and check those bank balances as you are drinking your morning coffee, do you also calculate in your mind whether you have sufficient funds available for upcoming recurring expenses such as mortgage payments, car loans, or other regular disbursements? If so, you are doing “cash management” combined with “future financial projections.”

If you are considering refinancing your mortgage or consolidating other debt, then knowing your precise cash position and effectively managing that cash can be very beneficial in helping you earn the highest credit ratings and the lowest loan rates.

Having a clear picture of your cash position can also be an important tool in helping you (or your public entity or higher Ed institution) be prepared for an emergency or unexpected fiscal crunch.

And if your prudent fiscal management has resulted in a larger cash balance in your low-or-no interest checking account than you really need at the moment, you will probably consider shifting some portion of those funds into a money market account—or maybe a CD—in order to earn higher interest. You have now successfully combined “liquidity analysis” with “future financial projections” and “investing of funds.” Congratulations! You are using the data, information, and tools of a Chief Financial Officer.

At three+one®, we help county governments and other public entities use the best resources available to manage their cash effectively. Our patented cashvest® system accurately monitors a public entity’s liquidity and provides it with the tools and technology needed to most effectively manage the funds that flow both into and out of its numerous bank accounts on a day-to-day basis. We provide our clients with objective, analytical, and accurate financial data that helps them use their resources to the very best advantage, thus maximizing their returns.

In our daily lives, most of us already practice the key elements of being an effective chief financial officer, no matter what our actual job title is. As it turns out, you probably already employ tools like “liquidity analysis,” “cash management,” and “financial projections” with your family’s finances. And it all starts out with that quick, but very effective, glance at your personal bank balances.

Having access to key data about current liquidity is critical to every facet of financial management. It is the starting point for cash control, financial projections, fraud prevention, and effective investing of funds. When you do those things on a personal level, with only one or two bank accounts to deal with, the process is fairly straightforward. But when you are the CFO of a large public entity or higher Ed institution, it gets much more complicated.

That’s where three+one® comes in.

Dealing with dozens of bank accounts, separate highway and general funds, enterprise funds, reserve accounts, debt-service funds, and the millions (or even tens of millions) of dollars that flow through those accounts every day can be a real challenge. The first key component is knowing exactly how much cash you have on deposit, and where those funds are—that’s liquidity analysis—and here at three+one®, that is precisely what we do. We can help you get a clear, detailed picture of the public funds that you manage, just like the one you have for your personal finances. Regardless of whether interest rates are rising or falling, we can provide you with the tools and data you need to best manage those funds.

We serve large and medium-sized public entities throughout New York State as well as in many other states nationwide. If you are a manager of public funds, please give us a call. We are sure that you will be satisfied with the results.

The author served as a county legislator, a county treasurer, and as a disaster recovery coordinator in New York State and has always strived to maximize the impact of federal and state monies at the local level.