Creating Public Value using the AI-Driven Internet of Things

MICHAEL J. KEEGAN | May 26, 2021

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Government agencies seek to deliver quality services in increasingly dynamic and complex environments. However, outdated infrastructures—and a shortage of sys­tems that collect and use massive real-time data—make it challenging for the agencies to fulfill their missions. Governments have a tremendous opportunity to transform public services using the “Internet of Things” (IoT) to provide situation-specific and real-time data, which can improve decision-making and optimize operational effectiveness.

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City of Yorkton

The City of Yorkton is designated by the Province of Saskatchewan through The Cities Act and, to a lesser extent, The Planning and Development Act, 2007as the official administrative body for Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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Squeezing the risk out of government AI projects

Article | April 20, 2020

A new report offers a five-point framework government agencies can use to maximize the benefits of artificial intelligence while minimizing the risks. “Risk Management in the AI Era,” released by the IBM Center for the Business of Government April 16, proposes a risk management framework that can help agencies use AI to best suit their needs. “Public managers must carefully consider both potential positive and negative outcomes, opportunities, and challenges associated with the use of these tools,” the report states, as well as the relative likelihood of positive or negative outcomes.

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Billions in funding from COVID relief programs now flowing to state, local governments

Article | July 3, 2020

The CARES ACT (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) passed by Congress created a sprawling, multi-faceted plan to combat COVID-19 and its debilitating effects on the U.S. economy. Signed into law in March, the $2 trillion relief package allocated funding for preserving jobs, backfilling government budgets, helping school districts, providing assistance for the unemployed and establishing grant programs for various industry sectors such as transportation and telecommunications. There are murmurs of a second stimulus bill which could be debated as soon as July, with the president on July 2 expressing his support for one. But, billions of dollars remain in the CARES Act funding for numerous programs. Much of that funding has reached recipients already, and more should start flowing at any time. All parties and stakeholders are eager, of course, for the funding to reach governmental entities. CARES Act funding programs include the following examples. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, program was established with approximately $13.2 billion. This funding is designated for public school districts through an application process that has oversight from each state’s centralized education agency. Texas school districts received $1.29 billion through the program, just behind the state of California, which received the highest allotment at $1.6 billion. Other states receiving a larger share of ESSER funding are New York ($1.03 billion), Florida ($770 million), Illinois ($569 million), and Georgia ($457 million). The program requires that at least 90 percent of the grant funding must be awarded to schools that received Title I, Part A funding during the 2019-20 school year. That stipulation will result in only school systems with a high number of students from low-income families being eligible for the bulk of the revenue. Applications are to be submitted to the state education agency for review and approval. However, decisions about how the funding is used are to be made by local officials in the school districts. Another part of the CARES Act provides billions more in funding for airports. The Airport Improvement Program (AIP) offers $10 billion in distributions through grants for capital projects. This revenue can also be used to fill funding gaps in fiscal year 2020 budgets, since airport systems throughout the nation sustained such heavy losses as a result of the pandemic. Previously, the grants required a local funding match, but the CARES Act increased the federal share to 100 percent. The AIP program allocates $7.4 billion for commercial airports that serve more than 10,000 passengers annually. Another $2 billion is set aside for commercial airports and general aviation airports. Looking at the listed intended uses of these funds, it appears that many airports will have thousands of upcoming contracting opportunities. Millions will be spent on projects to extend and/or rehabilitate runways. Other airports plan to install new lighting, expand terminals, purchase additional safety equipment, reconfigure taxiways, conduct studies, and develop planning documents for future expansion. Cities and counties are most eager to participate in the $5 billion in funding available for local government programs and projects through the Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, program. This funding is intended for local governmental officials to use for corridor redevelopment, economic development initiatives and other projects. Every state received funding and some of the larger allocations were designated for Texas ($63.4 million), California ($113 million), Florida ($63 million), and New York ($70.5 million). The U.S. Economic Development Organization continues to accept applications for projects that reinvigorate regional economic recovery, with $1.5 billion earmarked in the CARES Act for the Economic Adjustment Assistance Program. Through grants for projects that “leverage existing regional assets,” this program is designed to support economic development within distressed communities. Funding is available to states, counties, universities, and regional planning organizations, as well as for public-private partnerships. Examples of funding allocated through the program include the award of a $400,000 in grant to the Kennebac Valley Council of Governments in Maine to update its economic development plans and provide COVID-19 services. In Texas, the Concho Valley Council of Governments in San Angelo received a $2.2 million grant to purchase a building for its regional headquarters. The city of Odessa is using $927,708 in CDBG grant money for several social services programs and to supplement local nonprofits’ efforts during the pandemic. And the city of Lewisville recently received $5.8 million in CARES Act money, which includes $452,305 in CDBG grants. The Federal Transit Administration is distributing $25 billion with approximately $22.7 billion earmarked for large and small urban areas and $2.2 billion set aside for rural areas. This funding does not require a local match of any kind, and it can be used for capital projects and for operations and/or planning purposes, as long as those activities relate in some way to COVID-19. Transit agencies in urban areas with a population over one million --- such as Cap Metro, which received $104 million --- are getting $17.5 billion through the FTA. Transit agencies serving areas with populations fewer than one million --- such as Brownsville, Texas, which is receiving $7.6 million --- are getting $5.1 billion. In the middle of the current, historic pandemic, the economy will significantly be stimulated by projects and initiatives that result from this funding. Public-private collaboration will not only create jobs and generate additional revenue flow, it will result in getting Americans working together again … and that will serve the country well. Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Her recently released book, Inside the Infrastructure Revolution: A Roadmap for Building America, is a handbook for contractors, investors and the public at large seeking to explore how public-private partnerships or joint ventures can help finance their infrastructure projects.

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Could the next infrastructure bill include funding for public technology systems?

Article | June 19, 2020

The House of Representatives laid out an infrastructure plan on June 18 – an expensive one with a price tag of approximately $1.5 trillion. It will not, of course, pass Congress in its current state, but it promises to start the critical and overdue conversation in Washington about infrastructure. But, there’s an omission that hopefully will be addressed and debated in Congress. The new plan makes little mention of funding for America’s outdated public technology infrastructure. Yet, the nation’s technology is a critical component of its infrastructure. Some leaders hope to make Congress aware of the challenges public officials face as they try to manage with old legacy technology systems that should have been replaced a decade ago. Broadband will likely be addressed, but all kinds of other technology assets need attention as well. When taxpayers think about what infrastructure should include, there is not a consensus. Roads and bridges are certainly considered as public assets and will be included in every discussion of infrastructure. Water, power, schools, health care, and even the Postal Service are named in the new plan that passed the House of Representatives. But, the new bill, which is called the Moving Forward Act, does not mention government’s basic technology infrastructure. One definition of infrastructure is “the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.” Surely, technology falls into that category. There’s no argument that America’s global economic future depends on its technology infrastructure as well as its transportation infrastructure. But, public officials in governmental entities throughout the country attempt to provide services on old legacy systems that are decades past replacement stages. Public databases and networks are vulnerable to cyberattacks. The technology found in cities, counties, school districts, and governmental agencies is more than old and inadequate it is simply unreliable and in some instances could be considered dangerous. In a world of ‘big data’, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, apps, the Internet of Things (IoT), and extreme security requirements, government technology assets lag too far behind in America. Public officials don’t have funding to replace the antiquated technology systems. As Congress debates infrastructure reform, technology should be a part of the conversation. Those in agreement that the national debt does not need another $1.5 trillion hit may advocate for ways to encourage private sector funding for the many needs of infrastructure. Collaborative initiatives could be structured in the final infrastructure bill so that there are incentives for alternative funding and private sector expertise, as well as guidelines to protect taxpayers and public agencies. The inclusion of technology needs in any infrastructure discussion is, at the very least, worthy of discussion. Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Her recently released book, Inside the Infrastructure Revolution: A Roadmap for Building America, is a handbook for contractors, investors and the public at large seeking to explore how public-private partnerships or joint ventures can help finance their infrastructure projects.

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Public facility corporations provide alternative source of project funding

Article | September 18, 2020

Taxpayers, citizens, and industry leaders may not be totally familiar with Public Facility Corporations (PFCs), but that should change, especially now since public funding for critical projects is at an all-time low. PFCs are becoming somewhat common in many regions of the country. If the legal entity (PFC) is not familiar, here’s a bit of background. A PFC is a nonprofit corporation created by a sponsoring governmental entity — a city, county, school district, housing authority, or special district. PFCs have broad powers over public facilities, including financing, acquisition, construction, rehabilitation, renovation and repair. A PFC, once created, has the authority to issue bonds on behalf of its sponsoring public entity and once the bonds are funded, the money can be used in numerous ways. This type of legal entity has gained attention because public officials with critical projects are being forced to seek alternative funding sources. In Texas, public facility corporations are allowed the broadest possible powers to finance or provide for the acquisition, construction and rehabilitation of public facilities at the lowest possible borrowing cost. A sponsor — such as a municipality, county, school district or housing authority — may create one or more of nonprofit public facility corporations. Then, the PFC can issue bonds for the construction of public facilities or finance public facilities or even loan the proceeds of the revenue to other entities for specific purposes. A report that was released by The University of Texas School of Law found that a house bill approved during the 2015 legislative session “expands the authority of public facility corporations and allows the corporation to exercise any power that a nonprofit corporation might exercise and/or grant a leasehold or other possessory interest in a public facility owned by the PFC.” Here’s a bit more background of what is happening in Texas and there are numerous similar examples throughout the country. The El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) several years ago created the EPISD Public Facility Corporation to fund construction of central offices through non-voter approved bonds. The corporation issued more than $29 million in bonds. The plan called for the EPISD to repay the bonds with general fund dollars from the district's general fund. The 2019 Texas Legislative Session ended with a $4 million rider added to the state appropriations budget. The money was provided to the city of Port Aransas to build a $36 million apartment complex for affordable housing. Plans call for the 200-unit complex to be operated by the Port Aransas Public Facility Corporation. The corporation will work in partnership with a private company to develop and manage the property. An investment of approximately $14 million came from the private sector partner, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs provided an additional $18 million in funding. Site work on the project began in July 2020. Many school districts have created public facility corporations for construction projects for schools, and many municipalities have also used PFCs. The revenue from these types of bonds is sometimes called lease-revenue bonds. They do not require voter approval. Public facility corporations do not have the authority to raise tax rates, but it is possible for a school board to approve a property tax increase to make payments on the bonds sold by a PFC. The city of Tioga, located in the Sherman/Dennison region of Texas, constructed a new high school with funding from a public facility corporation. A collaborative initiative was launched with a lease-purchase agreement which allowed the PFC to hold title to the land and facility until the investment was repaid. At that time, the agreement calls for everything to transfer back to the district. Because the current campus was reaching its maximum capacity, a new high school campus had been a priority for the district and this was the funding mechanism selected. The city of Fate in Rockwell County recently embarked on a public-private partnership to develop an affordable seniors housing community. The projected cost is approximately $30 million. To fund the project, the city created a PFC. Plans are for the city to handle the design, construction, and management of the project in collaboration with the PFC. City leaders will appoint board members to the funding corporation which will then operate the development as a nonprofit. The project is anticipated for completion in January 2022. There are similar types of alternative types of funding options in other parts of the U.S. In Utah, for instance, the Park City Board of Education approved a PFC which will allow the district to secure revenue for a number of master plan projects. The projects have a combined projected cost of $122 million. The school district had considered the funding option of general obligation bonds, which would require voter approval, but elected to create a Local Building Authority (LBA). This funding option will allow them to fund an expansion of a high school facility to accommodate ninth-graders and expand another campus to allow for eighth-grade students. Public officials, legislators, government contractors, and taxpayers all should have an interest in watching PFCs as well as other alternative funding sources. Until traditional public funding becomes more available for critical public projects, there will be a need for various types of funding solutions. Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Her recently released book, Inside the Infrastructure Revolution: A Roadmap for Building America, is a handbook for contractors, investors and the public at large seeking to explore how public-private partnerships or joint ventures can help finance their infrastructure projects.

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Spotlight

City of Yorkton

The City of Yorkton is designated by the Province of Saskatchewan through The Cities Act and, to a lesser extent, The Planning and Development Act, 2007as the official administrative body for Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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