BRADENTON, Fla. - Cities and regions, including recession-battered Miami, will get "on the ground" assistance from experts to help with a holistic economic recovery in the initial launch of the National Resource Network.
In addition to Miami, Fall River, Mass., Kansas City, Kan., and a Southern California region encompassing Compton and Lynwood have already begun engagements with teams of experts, the Obama Administration announced late Thursday.
Teams of experts will help the cities with social and economic development issues, dealing with aging infrastructure, developing multi-year financial plans, and other needs, said the network's executive director, David Eichenthal, a managing director with Public Financial Management's management and budget consulting practice.
"It's easier and better to put a guard rail at top of the fiscal cliff than to station an ambulance below," Eichenthal said in an interview with The Bond Buyer. "Nobody wants to be the next city in line to become the next bankruptcy."
The cities receiving direct assistance were chosen based on their needs after applying to the Strong Cities Strong Communities Initiative, he said. In that program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides technical advice to communities that were hardest-hit by the recent recession.
Miami, as an example, declared financial urgencies for several years during the recession, which enabled the city to renegotiate union contracts and shore up its budget.
The south Florida economy is slowly recovering after a steep decline in property values and a high foreclosure rate, though Miami is being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission on three counts of securities fraud for allegedly making "misrepresentations and omissions to investors" in 2009 bond offering documents and financial statements designed to "mask" a deficit in the city's general fund.
Experts from the National Resource Network will "work with the city to implement projects that will deliver local economic benefits in the near term," Miami said in a brief statement. Mayor Tomas Regalado did not respond to a request for further comment.
The network will also provide similar, web-based assistance initially to 50 municipalities through the "311 for Cities" program, which also launched Thursday. It will allow them to tap a network of private and public sector experts through its website.
Through the Internet, selected cities will get advice on community and economic development, operations, and other key strategies such as improving bond ratings, strengthening fiscal plans, reducing crime, reforming zoning codes, and creating jobs from infrastructure investments.
The experts assisting the municipalities are from the private and public sectors, and include Enterprise Community Partners, PFM, HR&A Advisors, New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and the International City/County Management Association.
"For all of the cities going into this program, there's not one issue that one area of expertise can address," Eichenthal said. "We have a unique ability to bring together all these disciplines at one time to work with a city and address issues holistically."
The network is a three-year, $10 million technical assistance program funded by HUD. The participating firms are also raising an additional $10 million to leverage the federal investment.
"We view this as the begin of an ongoing initiative," Eichenthal said, adding that in a year or so it will be available to "hundreds of cities."