Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Utah governor prays for much-needed snow; Wisconsin’s lead-foot problem; convicted Pa. mayor makes appeal to citizens; and homelessness hits new lows in Lexington, Ky.
PENSIONS | In a restructuring of local police and firefighter pension debt, city officials in Alton, Illinois, located on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, discovered that they owe “more than $20 million than previously thought,” bringing the total to $113 million. And that doesn’t include the costs of meeting Environmental Protection Agency mandates to separate Alton’s sewer and stormwater systems in the next six years, even though local officials have known about the requirement since 1994. Because of the difficult pension situation, “the city is growing desperate for both additional revenue and solutions.” Late last month, city officials gave the green light to start negotiations to sell the city’s water and sewer system. Illinois American Water, which serves 1.2 million people, has expressed interest in purchasing the municipal infrastructure assets and would assume responsibility for the sewer separation and other upgrades. [RiverBender; Alton Telegraph]
MEDICAID | The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and Services has approved a waiver that would allow Arkansas to implement work requirements for those in the state who are recipients of the state’s private-option Medicaid expansion program. Similar waivers have been already approved for Indiana and Kentucky. The Arkansas proposal, however, would not impact residents enrolled in the traditional Medicaid program. [ArkansasOnline; The Washington Post]
GUN VIOLENCE | The Florida Senate on Monday narrowly passed a bill that would fund security programs for schools, attempt to keep mentally ill individuals from obtaining guns and would launch a first in the nation, but optional, program to arm school officials. The bill moves to the Florida House, which would need to approve it and get it to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk before the legislative session ends March 9. "This is an opt-in program … It's dependent on the school district and the sheriff to determine if it participates in the program," according to state Sen. Rene Garcia. [The Buzz / Tampa Bay Times]
In Georgia, the chairman of the Fulton County Commission, Robb Pitts, is calling for a non-binding resolution calling on the state’s legislature to “limit or prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, keep the mentally ill from buying guns and create a universal database of individuals who are prohibited from buying guns.” [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
CITY HALLS | Allentown, Pennsylvania Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who was convicted by a jury this past week on 47 corruption-related charges, has been asking his supporters to write letters to Judge Juan R. Sanchez asking him to be lenient during sentencing. “What we truly need right now is for people to write a letter to the judge on my behalf. I would like to get as many as possible (hopefully thousands) to him over the next several weeks,” the mayor said in a text message to supporters. Prosecutors and others in Allentown have urged Pawlowski to resign. [The Morning Call; Courthouse News]
HOMELESSNESS | Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker has been in San Diego County, California and met with local officials there to share insights on how her city significantly reduced its homeless population, including using “a regional approach and aligning efforts among agencies and nonprofits.” [The San Diego Union Tribune]
The rate of homelessness in Lexington, Kentucky has reached its lowest level in 12 years. But there are still nearly 700 homeless individuals in Lexington, according to the 2018 homelessness count. “Our work continues until everyone in Lexington has access to opportunities, support services, and safe, decent, affordable housing,” according to Polly Ruddick, director of the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. [WLEX-TV / LEX 18]
PUBLIC SAFETY | Officials in Portland, Oregon closed off a popular downtown plaza, O’Bryant Square, due to ongoing concerns with the structural stability of an underground parking garage that was closed last fall. The square is located adjacent to the city’s largest cluster of food carts. "We will be working on a long-term plan for the park in the future," according to a parks spokesman. [The Oregonian / OregonLive]
DROUGHT | In a recently sent letter, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has asked faith leaders in his state to pray for snow after an especially dry winter where the mountains have only half of the normal snowpack. "Because the health of our waterways, our wetlands, our agriculture, and our forests in particular depend on an abundant snowpack and because none of us can afford to witness the destruction that comes with wildfire, I am again reaching out to you and your faith communities with an invitation to unite in prayer," Herbert wrote. [KSTU-TV / Fox13]
The good news in California, where there’ve been worries about a weak snowpack this winter: Last week’s winter storms have dumped major amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada, which in some places saw 7 feet of new snow. The bad news: The Golden State needs to see two more similar storms in order to reach an average winter snowpack.
TRAFFIC SAFETY | A low-clearance bridge in Delaware, Ohio has been hit by truck drivers at least 14 times since 2015, despite there being 10 warning signs—some with flashing lights—posted along the approaches to the troublesome span. “When a truck hits the bridge, the cost to the city is $2,000 to $5,000 for cleanup, extra police, and so on,” according to a city spokesman [Construction Equipment]
Motorists in Wisconsin have a major lead-foot problem with “[t]hree of the top 10 offenses in 2017 were for varying degrees of speeding, leading to nearly 160,000 convictions.” In 2017, there were more than 88,000 convictions for driving 11-19 mph over the posted speed limit. [Post Crescent]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.