Helping cities become fiscally fit

Michigan State University Extension launches Center for Local Government Finance and Policy to work with communities to improve fiscal health.

Michigan State University Extension will launch a center this month to help the state’s municipalities improve their fiscal health.

Directed by Eric Scorsone, an economist who assisted Detroit and other struggling cities, the MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy will advise communities and distribute important research and fiscal-health indicators for all Michigan municipalities.

“Local governments often only hear about what they’re doing wrong instead of what they are doing right and on how they can do things even better,” said Scorsone, MSU Extension specialist in municipal finance and MSU professor of economics. “Our goal is to provide local governments with the tools and information they need to operate in a fiscally healthy and sustainable way while working with state government to make sure the state doesn’t put up roadblocks to local success.”

Michigan municipalities face many challenges, including $10 billion in combined unfunded legacy costs related to pension and retiree health care, Scorsone noted. “We can’t simply undo past mistakes,” he said, “but we can focus on helping people improve their futures.”

The center will offer fiscal sustainability workshops, customized consultancy services, applied research on municipal governance and fiscal issues and an annual fiscal health report on each of Michigan’s cities, counties and townships.

While there is a charge for workshops, consulting fees will be based on the scope of work and are flexible. Scorsone said the center “wants to put as few barriers to providing assistance as we can.”

In the past few years, Scorsone and colleagues have advised governments in Detroit, Flint, Lansing and elsewhere on short- and long-term fiscal issues. The team also worked with state officials and local municipalities to help the communities navigate and move beyond emergency management.

MSU Extension has worked with local officials for decades through programs such as new county commissioner training and developing the first formal budgeting system for county governments.

“As a land-grant university, we are uniquely able to work on the ground with local officials to offer customized education and outreach that fits the needs of individual communities and allows them to thrive,” said Ray Hammerschmidt, interim director of MSU Extension.

The center will have two kickoff events – Jan. 12 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing and Jan. 14 at the Miller Canfield law firm in Detroit.

Municipalities interested in the center’s services can contact Mary Schulz, associate director, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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