National News Roundup – May 9, 2023
Finance Department Openings Proving Costly
Worker shortages in this profession are causing challenges for public sector.
As cities and counties struggle to find workers to fill vacant positions, a shortage of experienced workers in finance departments is proving particularly costly. And the problem is likely to become worse.
A National Association of State Treasurers study found that 60 percent of public finance workers are over 45, while less than 20 percent are younger than 35.
The private sector is facing similar issues. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the accounting profession has an acute shortage of workers as the population of graduates with accounting degrees has declined over the years.
For the past several years, public sector finance departments have been under heightened pressure while navigating the pandemic and a wave of retirements. Now they have been tasked with managing and reporting on millions of dollars of new federal funding.
The need for local government auditing may be increasing because more localities will be subject to the federal government’s single audit requirement.
Under the rule, governments that spend $750,000 or more of federal awards in any given year are subject to the federal Single Audit Act, which requires that they submit an external audit to verify they’ve spent the money according to the guidelines.
An increasing number of local governments are falling behind on publishing their annual comprehensive financial reports, which could affect their credit standing. Combined with the practical fact that policymakers need audited financial data to make informed spending decisions, the lag in financial reporting threatens to translate into more costs for governments.
Those costs are real. In April S&P Global Ratings withdrew its rating for 64 local governments and districts because they have yet to produce their audited 2021 financial report. A ratings withdrawal can result in being charged a higher interest rate the next time an issuer borrows in the municipal market. Many of those that had their rating ultimately withdrawn are small localities and districts. S&P has warned that, given the auditing workforce shortage, it expects more governments to have delayed financials.
Some observers say a partial answer may be new software tools to make auditing more “tech friendly” and fill the gap signified by all of those empty desks in local finance departments.
(Source: Route Fifty)
Tree Canopy Mapping Aims to Help Cities Plan
Google offers free tool to assist local governments in forestry initiatives.
Google, the Internet search company famous for its global mapping services, is offering municipalities a free Tree Canopy tool. The aim is to map urban tree cover and help cities “understand their current tree coverage and better plan urban forestry initiatives,” according to Google.
The tool now covers 16 cities across the US, and the company plans to expand the tool to thousands of other cities this year. Tree Canopy is built with the same underlying information Google uses for Google Maps, using machine learning and aerial imagery to estimate how dense a neighborhood’s tree cover is.
Trees, of course, bring city dwellers numerous benefits: They absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide, can improve people’s mental health, provide shade, and cool the surrounding air. But in most cities the benefits are not distributed equitably, and some areas have less tree cover – and, in turn, hotter average temperatures.
Leaders from Austin, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois, among the first cities to use the tool, say they found Tree Canopy data to be mostly accurate. “Satellite data
is hard to refute because we notice familiar objects, and we can sort of understand that it’s real,” said Marc Coudert, the Austin, Texas, climate resilience and adaptation manager.
Tree Canopy helps community “tree ambassadors” focus outreach efforts and quickly identify where they can most productively request trees on behalf of residents, said Raed Mansour, director of environmental innovation at the Chicago Department of Public Health.
According to Google, Tree Canopy may not always match up with a city’s data due to factors such as the date the aerial imagery was taken, different versions of city boundaries, and errors by the company’s machine learning system.
Go here to explore the Tree Canopy tool.
(Sources: Smart Cities Dive, Google)
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