Local governments play an essential role in developing and implementing community goals for the future. Cumulatively, such choices shape quality of life for all residents, help our economy thrive, and determine whether additional regional goals are met. Thus, municipalities and other local governments are the front line for implementing ON TO 2050 through local plans, regulations, infrastructure investments, programs, and services. Many of these groups act with limited staff and funds, however, or may not have the knowledge, training, or technical resources to achieve their goals and support a favorable quality of life. Leaders throughout the region should champion efforts to build local capacity that helps municipal staff and officials, community organizations, nonprofits, and others to govern their vital day-to-day decisions. Efforts to build capacity are broad and range from training and building technical knowledge, to ensuring sustainable funding, to networking and enhancing partnerships to share resources.
Training for staff as well as elected and appointed officials has significant benefits. Local planning and governance are increasingly challenged by fiscal and staffing constraints, which require strengthening public services even while reducing their costs. Capacity building trainings can help stretch local governments' resources by enhancing expertise despite dwindling staff and increasing responsibilities. While many of the professional organizations present in the region do an excellent job providing continuing education for existing staff and specialists, new staff or newly elected or appointed officials need opportunities to learn about fundamentals and best practices. This is most critical for issues such as municipal operations, public administration, planning topics, and economic development.
Some local governments are not able to offer or fund ongoing trainings, which is especially challenging due to frequent turnover of elected and appointed officials. See the Draft ON TO 2050 Indicators Appendix for an indicator to track the percentage of municipalities within the region that arrange for training of their appointed officials is under development, beginning with baseline data established via CMAP’s 2018 Municipal Plans, Programs, and Operations Survey.
It is often a challenge for municipalities -- especially those without adequate staffing -- to allocate resources for special projects, plan implementation, and other capacity building activities. In such cases, they may require targeted assistance to build new processes and grow available resources. ON TO 2050 implementation will require technical assistance and strategies for building capacity, with a focus on each community’s need for expertise and systems that promote resilience and growth.
Building capacity in the communities of northeastern Illinois will help improve local quality of life and create greater economic opportunity. For this reason, efforts to strengthen EDAs and disinvested areas are especially important to support inclusive growth, which will benefit those communities and the regional economy as a whole.
Other implementers also provide important technical assistance that builds capacity. Some counties, for instance, take an active role in municipalities with less capacity. The Invest in Cook program provides technical and financial assistance for local projects in disinvested areas that align with the county's long-range transportation plan. It takes a coordinated approach by identifying performance-based transportation investment opportunities, then leveraging Cook County government to help local governments and ensure successful implementation. This approach can be replicated by other counties for high-priority infrastructure projects in lower capacity municipalities and for coordination of projects spanning multiple jurisdictions.
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.