Six months ago, the world was a completely different place. The American economy was growing. Families were regularly coming together for birthdays, weddings and other special occasions. The 1,298 cities, villages and towns throughout Illinois were providing regular and critical services to support the health, safety and welfare of their residents.
However, in March, all but one of those came to a screeching halt. Municipal officials and employees never stopped working. Through state-issued stay at home orders, remote work and a drastic economic downturn, municipal officials across the state immediately transitioned into a state of never-before-seen flux and triage while providing critical services to their communities.
Stay at home orders led to structural strains on the day-to-day operations of a municipality. Public works crews were still repairing and maintaining municipal infrastructure. Public safety personnel were protecting our communities. Many municipalities closed their city halls to the public and, in some instances, municipal employees were directed to work from home. Elected and administrative officials were making vital decisions to keep their communities functioning with no guidebook from which to plan.
Municipalities also acted to support those who needed help during the economic shutdown. Many municipalities halted utility shutoffs and waived late fees for municipal-owned utility services. To this end and due to significant revenue shortfalls overall, municipalities will now have to make difficult financial decisions to prioritize critical services while maintaining the fiscal stability of their communities.
Municipal officials are still facing more uncomfortable decisions. On June 30, the Illinois Municipal League (IML) provided our membership with a survey to chronicle the impact of COVID-19 on municipal governments. There were 227 municipalities that completed the survey. Results showed that 87% of responding communities expect to experience a revenue shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The median revenue shortfall estimated by responding municipalities is 20% - 30% when compared to last year. Municipalities across the state watched locally-owned small businesses shutter their doors, possibly forever, dealing a social and economic blow to their communities. How those business recover is unknown and remains a significant work in progress.
COVID-19 has had an extreme impact on municipalities throughout the state that will be felt for years to come. Every elected and appointed municipal official is ready to ensure that, despite the financial hardships created by this pandemic, their community continues to be a place where people want to live, work and play for years and decades to come.
This article was originally published in September 2020 as part of The CPAA Journal - Fall 2020 edition.
Brad Cole is the Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal League and an Affliliated Faculty member of the Department of Public Administration.
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