Most of the magazines, trade shows, and other media that Hanley Wood, LLC—the company that publishes this magazine—owns serve home builders. A few, like Concrete Construction and The Concrete Producer, cover the commercial construction market.

Government employees are a fraction of those audiences. Public Works is the complete opposite: Contractors, architects, and engineers are a fraction of our audience. The magazine and our website are produced specifically for the unique informational needs of city, county, special district, township, and state employees. In other words: public-sector people.

There’s a world of difference in public-versus private-sector dynamics because each serves different masters. Worst-case consequence in the private sector: Lose a customer. In the public sector: Inadvertently touch off a controversy that metastasizes for years. Reactions to the most innocent, well-intentioned actions can careen out of control. Usually, it’s the issue you didn’t think would be an issue that becomes an issue.

Only someone who’s been there can understand the scrutiny that comes with managing taxpayer dollars.

This special issue shows how public works departments nationwide continue to get the job done despite circumstances beyond their control.

The results of our annual survey of readers' budget expectations are here. Following that, eight public works departments share how they plan to continue improving service in 2014.

Their challenges run the gamut, from roads to sewers, and from drinking water to air quality. We hope you’ll find at least one idea you can steal. Or share one of yours by e-mailing sjohnston@hanleywood.com.

Happy New Year.