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City of Rockford announces partnership with economic network

ROCKFORD — The City of Rockford will partner with an organization leaders say will help them make several economic improvements over the next several years, aldermen approved Tuesday.

The agreement is with the National Resource Network. It aims at assisting Rockford in developing a seven-year financial plan, which will focus on improving the city’s fiscal sustainability and economic competitiveness. Work on the plan is expected to be complete by September.

The city has also announced the adoption of a long-term financial planning policy to provide several benefits to the city and taxpayers, including service and tax stability, as well as better prioritization of resources. The policy will be applied to the city’s main operating funds and will be presented as part of the annual budget process. It will help identify known changes in revenues and expenditures and develop a plan for eliminating budget shortfalls in the future.

“While no municipality wants to face a budget crisis, it is an unfortunate reality in today’s economic climate,” Mayor Tom McNamara said in a release. “We know that if we aren’t financially stable, we won’t be able to be a good partner to our current businesses and those we want to attract.”

McNamara said the National Resource Network has a proven track record working on municipal operations, funding and budgeting that will be beneficial this year and in years to come.

In addition to a budget deficit of $10 million for 2018, based on projections, Rockford could be facing a cumulative deficit of $62 million over the next five years.

The city was one of 58 cities that applied for the partnership last year. Rockford met several of the network’s eligibility criteria, including population decline, poverty rates, and annual average unemployment rates.

National Resource Network officials said Rockford was also approved because leaders demonstrate readiness and willingness to support a long-range plan.

“We are excited to be partnering with the City of Rockford to provide technical assistance and develop a multi-year financial plan that addresses the city’s unique challenges,” National Resource Network Executive Director David Eichenthal said. “The city’s leadership is ready to take the steps needed to achieve fiscal sustainability, and we look forward to working with Mayor Tom McNamara and the City of Rockford.”

The network’s work in Rockford will focus on several key components, including the formation of an advisory committee to review the baseline for financial analysis, and the review of expenditure drivers to identify opportunities to reinvest savings to align with targeted community goals such as enhanced housing stock, reduced crime, and community and economic development.

After the work is complete, officials say the city will have a seven-year financial and management plan and a series of policy changes that will help the city achieve the sustainability necessary to meet goals set by aldermen and the community.

Total cost of the partnership is $400,000. The city will invest $100,000. The remaining 75 percent will be paid by the National Resource Network through a $4 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF).

Since its launch in 2014, the network has partnered with 50 cities in 22 states.

Through its partnership with the network, Providence, Rhode Island, adopted a 10-year financial plan to balance budgets and provide for key investments, while better integrating governmental departments. The network also worked with the city to bring community stakeholders into the process, including colleges and universities, business organizations, nonprofits, and foundations. The network helped adopt similar plans in Flint, Michigan; Kansas City, Kansas; and Waco, Texas.

The National Resource Network is a core component of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative. R.

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