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“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,” Warren Buffett famously said. Yet, tides are cyclical and predictable. The coronavirus pandemic has caused something more akin to the Jaws beach scene.
Underinvestment in technology has left many local governments scrambling to meet the needs of their staff and communities. “Local municipalities are struggling because they have not made critical investments in technology,” says John Pulomena, County Administrator for Middlesex County, NJ.
Right now there is an opportunity for many local governments to modernize technology under the federal government’s COVID-19 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”). State and local leaders validate the use of funds for technology upgrades under current guidance.
For Middlesex County, the pandemic is playing out like another crisis. “It hit like Superstorm Sandy, from a financial point of view, creating a process and documentation nightmare,” describes CFO & Treasurer Joe Pruiti. Learning from its recent past, the County is leading its communities to recovery with OpenGov.
Middlesex County received $144M in CARES Act funding for local businesses and municipalities. The County is using funds to cover financial shortfalls and bridge technology shortcomings.
Mainstreet businesses (generally 1-20 employees) were shut down for nearly 60 days in Middlesex County, and sustaining them was critical to saving jobs and the local economy. Middlesex adopted OpenGov to efficiently award competitive grants of $30k to help those who were not utilizing federal programs.
“OpenGov works well for both the applicant, making it simple and straightforward, but has a sophisticated back-end to meet strict audit standards. With OpenGov we were able to efficiently process 175 applications in just 14 days.”
Gerry Mackenzie, Head of Community Services, Middlesex County, NJ
In addition to Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) applications, Middlesex made CARES Act Municipal Fund Applications available with OpenGov. The County instructs local municipalities to be expansive with their reimbursement requests, as guidance is sharpened, to ensure they don’t miss out on critical technology upgrades.
With OpenGov, Middlesex has the platform it needs to distribute funds, integrate with existing systems, and solve a key challenge: 25 towns doing many of the same functions in 25 different ways.
“The one thing we realized is that though we have business applications across the enterprise, we didn’t have one to handle something as complex as CARES Act funding. We wanted to be proactive, and we wanted an application that was flexible and served our needs and the needs of our local municipalities.”
Joe Pruiti, CFO & Treasurer, Middlesex County, NJ
When even the near future remains uncertain, OpenGov provides both near- and long-term value. “We can expand the platform to support other initiatives — distributing additional funding or more straightforward planning and permitting processes,” explains County Administrator John Pulomena.
Middlesex County was able to move quickly to anticipate the needs of its communities because the team had faced a similar crisis with Superstorm Sandy. While the County is leading to recovery, they are also looking to protect against long-term, IT-related risks.
County Administrator Pulomena is proposing a broader mandate for counties and is calling for a regional technology strategy to benefit towns across New Jersey. “When it comes to technology, many don’t have the wherewithal to make smart investments, and even if they do they may lack the expertise to implement new solutions effectively,” Pulomena points out.
A regional technology strategy would provide cost savings, time savings, and a network of experts across municipalities adopting a common solution.
“Municipalities need to come together to reduce costs, risk, and reactivate urgently needed economic growth for their towns, cities, and counties,” advocates Pulomena, “and now is the moment to create a regional enterprise and capture savings and efficiencies.”
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