The top priorities among mayors in 2022 are focusing on infrastructure, economic development, budgets and management, and public safety, according to the National League of Cities’ State of the Cities report released Wednesday.
NLC's annual report was based on an analysis of 60 mayoral speeches delivered between October 2021 and April 2022, representing cities across a range of population sizes and geographic regions. Researchers found that cities are focused on utilizing an influx of federal funds through the American Rescue Plan that passed last year, as well as the forthcoming infusion of money via the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed in the fall, the report stated. Mayors also focused on working through employment pressures, while trying to ensure their residents are treated equitably.
Mayors' optimism this year contrasts with last year’s report when they were also concerned about the need to invest in infrastructure but were forced to defer or scale back projects as less revenue came in from the COVID-19 pandemic. They were also focused on their fiscal budgets and the management of staff and their cities but out of concern that the pandemic would force leaders to make service cuts. However, in 2022, with federal and state money on hand or incoming, mayors expressed a desire to manage those budgets, while fulfilling infrastructure projects and advancing community and economic development initiatives.
“This year was full of big opportunities for cities, with American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure law dollars now headed directly to communities,” said Clarence Anthony, the NLC’s CEO and executive director, in a statement.
In the latest report, 36% of the mayoral speeches NLC analyzed had “significant mention” of infrastructure. Recognizing the need for maintenance and spending on roads, bridges, broadband and water and sewer systems, local governments were preparing to apply for, receive and utilize the influx of federal and state grants they have received or will soon be available, the report states.
Carson, California, for example, is spending $17.7 million in federal coronavirus relief funds on its parks and recreation facilities, broadband infrastructure and small business assistance, the report states. Charleston, West Virginia, is planning to spend over $1.75 million of Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program funding on revitalizing its waterfront, as well as other ‘shovel-ready’ projects.
The mayor of Rosemount, Minnesota, discussed how the infrastructure law could fund the city’s water treatment plant and railroad overpass projects. It was one of several speeches by mayors that highlighted the need to invest in water sewer treatment plants. In total, 15% of speeches focused on water, waste, and sewer infrastructure with a need to address issues such as drought mitigation and outdated stormwater infrastructure.
Some cities emphasized the need to tackle long-overdue maintenance and renovation projects in the frame of job creation and economic development. This includes Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who highlighted a project to rebuild an abandoned fairground into an Amazon distribution center.
As for Tucson, Arizona: “We are using an equity lens to strategically invest in programs, services and infrastructure that will help us along our path to full recovery in a way that will make a difference in the quality of life” of all residents, Mayor Regina Romero stated in the report.
Economic development, budget and management, public safety
Economic development was central in mayoral speeches, with 33% significantly mentioning it. In an effort to generate economic growth, mayors highlighted plans to invest in downtown developments and commercial real estate projects. They also mentioned lifting up residents most impacted financially by the pandemic through community development, entrepreneurship initiatives and other strategies, the report states.
Managing staff, revenue and setting budgets were also top of mind for many mayors, with 23% significantly mentioning the issue in their speeches. Mayoral speeches primarily explored fiscal 2022 budgets, as well as the performance of and plans for various revenue sources, transparency and community involvement in the budgeting and decision-making process.
That included a focus on the leadership and management of city government, staffing shortages and concerns about local revenue. It also included the implementation of American Rescue Plan Act funds and the use of federal infrastructure funding as well as prioritizing budgets around housing, infrastructure, public safety, parks and recreation and other projects.
Many mayors also prioritized public safety, with 18% significantly mentioning it in their speeches. City leaders discussed implementing programs focused on crime prevention. Many also identified the need for criminal justice reform, following racial justice protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and a heightened awareness of inequalities perpetrated against Black people. That includes putting police-community relationships at the core of their approach to public safety, the report states.