“The New COVID-19 Normal,” American City & County

In an article published by American City & County on October 7, 2020, Rob Hosack provides insight on the many complicated issues local governments may face as they transition into the post COVID-19 era.

Using Cobb County as an example, Hosack identifies number of challenges that are likely facing all counties throughout the United States involving policy issues, governmental/staff operational issues and unique community issues, such as:

Policy Impacts

  1. Early and absentee voting will be impacted. Larger, urban counties will experience increased pressure to provide longer time periods for voting, and additional election staff to provide such. Given many counties reliance on part time, semi-retired poll workers for election activities, essential compensation incentives should be anticipated.
  2. These larger counties should also evaluate special ballot questions/referendums. Successful referendums often result from robust and numerous open houses throughout the subject county. Limitations for public gatherings could limit outreach and potential passage for counties seeking voter approval for referendums or special initiatives.
  3. Parity between county employees reporting to the elected Commissioners versus those employees under an Elected Officials such as a Judge, Sheriff or Tax Collector should be anticipated. Counties may traditionally provide similar pay incentives to “like” positions, i.e., whether in the Police Department (BOC) or the elected Sheriff’s Office (Constitutional Officer). Patrol Officers are likely to have increased public interaction responsibilities, compared to other Officers focused more on administrative activities that can be performed

Operational Impacts

  1. Public hearings and meetings have been conducted remotely, although additional financial resources have been necessary for technical equipment. Future planning may need to include such technical equipment in public libraries/rec centers to ensure access to those in need.
  2. Public engagement strategies and activities for stakeholder outreach are beginning to appear in routine Requests for Proposals (RFP) with specific attention to Shelter in Place and Social Distancing provisions. Costs for new technology to support and document required outreach should be anticipated in the future.
  3. Determination of “Essential Workers” and compensation for such will be an ongoing challenge. Federal definitions often do not align with local definition/vision of essential; causing conflict between certain departments. The method of compensation (vacation accrual versus cash payment) may also be a source of friction.

Community Impacts

  1. Tourism that plays a major part of a county’s economy via traditional anchors of theme parks, event venues and National Parks are likely experiencing a downturn in collection of sales taxes and hotel/motel taxes/fees that are generated by tourism. Counties that utilize projection of these types of taxes to prepare or finance long term capital plans are at risk to downsize or delay such plans.

To read the full article, please click here.