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Op-Ed submitted by Deron King, Manager in Transition 

There are numerous challenges facing city managers in today’s local government, which call for them to make tough decisions. City managers are excellent leaders who come from all backgrounds within both the public and private sectors. As local governments move forward in this post-COVID-19 era, city managers’ challenges range from addressing organizational needs, such as employee retention and effective budgetary management, to providing effective methods for addressing community issues such as affordable housing and homelessness.

To address these challenges, it is vital that city managers have access to the technical and financial tools that will aid them in managing infrastructure problems, organizational needs and community concerns. It is also important that federal, state and local governments collaborate to address these issues. The challenges discussed in this article are not an all-inclusive list of the challenges facing city managers. Additionally, these challenges are not confined to just one area of the country, impacting local communities across the nation.

Aging roads, water and sewer infrastructure is a problem confronting city managers due to the enormous need for maintenance and repair in cities, in addition to the need for providing proper funding. The problem facing city managers in addressing this issue is that cities are often competing for limited governmental funding, such as Community Development Block Grant funding, as well as other federal, state and local funding resources.

At the same time, most cities are dealing with deferred maintenance, meaning their communities have gone decades without providing for repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, water and sewers. As a result, we have seen roads crumble over the years. City managers are expected to repair these problems, often inherited upon assuming their position.

One funding method for municipalities has been state governments’ approval of a sales tax, which can be applied to the sale price of goods purchased in the municipalities where infrastructure improvements are undertaken. These funds could therefore provide for a method in which visitors who utilize the water, sewer and road infrastructure of a municipality contribute to the funding of needed upgrades and maintenance. In 2020, 45 of the 50 states, including California, generated sales tax revenues as a significant source of funds.

For example, since 2004, the City of Atlanta, Georgia has utilized the Municipal Option Sales Tax, commonly referred to as MOST, to provide additional funding for much-needed water and sewer repairs. These efforts have generated more than $700 million since 2004, which has been vital to addressing needed repairs. What also makes these funds crucial is they have provided the City with a method for financing repairs that are mandated by the federal government.

Recently, the cities of East Point, Hapeville and College Park, Georgia successfully implemented a MOST when voters voted “Yes” on a referendum to put a MOST into effect. Since 2023, upon implementing a MOST in these communities, the additional funds have been used to address long-standing water and sewer infrastructure problems.

It is important to note that it took the collaborative efforts of these communities working together to inform their residents of the value of approving a MOST. The city managers, their staff and the mayors from these communities met with state legislators during the State General Assembly to convince them to allow for a voter referendum within their communities. Also, the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, a public-private partnership working with local communities to provide economic development improvements, held forums in collaboration with the cities to inform residents of the benefits of implementing a MOST. Without this collaborative effort at the local and state level, the MOST would not have been implemented within these communities.

Housing affordability is another challenging area confronting many local communities due to rising prices and rental costs. Communities must devise solutions to address this problem because it can lead to another serious issue: homelessness. City managers must address the homelessness problems confronting their communities by developing collaborative strategies with local partners and seeking funding solutions. An example of a solution undertaken by a local community to address both the housing insecurity and homelessness problem was the creation of the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Empowerment by the City of East Point, Georgia.

To jumpstart the office, $1 million in funding was provided in the form of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds made available during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the nation, numerous individuals were severely hurt financially by the loss of their jobs during the pandemic. The office’s goal was to provide housing/rental assistance to residents in jeopardy of losing their homes and deter homelessness.

The city manager utilized a current staff member to serve as program director and work within the newly created office. The program director, in turn, created partnerships with local hotels, shelters and non-profit agencies (also involving job creation) to address the problem of homelessness and oversee the creation of an application process and guidelines for providing housing assistance. It is also important to note that the City was successful in this endeavor due to the funding received through the County to assist in addressing homelessness. The long-term sustainability of the office was attained due to the City’s ability to apply additional annual funds to the office once a final payment was made on Tax Allocation District Bonds. However, once again, it took a coalition of partnerships ranging from homeless shelters, local hotels, non-profit agencies and government officials at the city, county and federal (ARPA Funds) levels to make this office initiative successful. This created another path of financial and technical assistance for residents during a difficult time.

Due to rapidly evolving technological advances, cyber-security threats have become another critical challenge confronting city managers. As we have seen, cyber-criminals are utilizing these advances for illegal financial gains. City managers must now lead their municipalities in providing the technological tools necessary to build effective cyber-security measures for their organizations. However, many municipalities do not have the funding to hire a cyber-security expert or a team of cyber-security experts. Therefore, many municipalities must either obtain funding or work in collaboration with other governmental entities to provide for a combined regional governmental approach to address this vital area.

To address this growing challenge, Congress created the State and Local Cybersecurity Improvement Act through the Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) for 2021, which set the path for the establishment of the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program (SLCGP). The federal funding provided by the program is in the amount of $1 billion over four years. The funding for each state is calculated by a formula that is determined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). 80 percent of the state allocation amount must be allocated to local governments and a portion of funds must be allocated to rural jurisdictions.

The State of California was awarded $7,976,788 for SLCGP in December 2022 (FY22). The state was also notified in August 2023 that it would receive $15, 879,497 for year-two funding (FY23). Governor Jerry Brown created the California Cybersecurity Task Force, a statewide partnership serving as an advisory board to the state for cyber-security matters of concern. Also, the California Cybersecurity Integration Center (Cal-CSIC) created a subcommittee of the Task Force which is the Cybersecurity Investment Planning Subcommittee. Work has been successfully done for the completion of the state’s Cybersecurity Plan.

While there is much more detail that goes into the funding process, including the awarding of approved projects, it will be interesting to hear city managers’ point-of-view on the impact of this much-needed funding source. This grant program has provided local communities an excellent opportunity to form the collaborative effort needed on the federal, state and local levels to address this serious threat.

City managers are to be commended for having the educational ability, willingness to serve, judgment and personal skills to be successful in filling this vital leadership role in local communities. However, to aid city managers in addressing these challenges, there must be collaborative efforts within the communities in which they serve if we are to truly empower them to be successful. With these collaborative efforts underway, communities become safer, and the quality of life improves for all of our residents and businesses. It is not an easy job and is one that takes much personal sacrifice for service in the communities in which they serve. They must also be given the tools in the communities they serve to be empowered to address these challenges. These tools include not only the staff who work for the organization but also the support of the businesses, residents and government entities on the federal, state and local levels to collaborate for the common good. If these various factions of the community come together, anything is possible for the improvement of our local communities! If you get an opportunity, send a “thank you” note to your local city manager and give him or her your encouragement and support for continued success in addressing these challenges. In future articles, I will discuss other key issues impacting local communities.


Deron King is a forward-thinking management professional with years in public service. Mr. King has extensive experience working with communities and government entities and is a Credentialed Manager by the International City County Management Association. He has worked in the local government sector with over 15 years of city management experience.

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