Meeting City Infrastructure and Public Improvement Needs

Article excerpt

Decisions to provide infrastructure and capital facilities for a community are often the most critical and difficult ones that local elected officials face. These decisions can determine whether or not a community grows, shape its most basic features, require the raising and spending of huge sums of money and draw intense public scrutiny and debate.

An article in Public Budgeting and Finance by Susan A. McManus states that a recent study of Florida cities where incumbents lost elections suggests that infrastructure decisions and related financing issues "are now more likely to result in an incumbent's defeat than taxes and services." This was the case in both fast and slower growing communities and was more pronounced in the larger cities that were part of the study.

Depending on a city's needs, size and goals, infrastructure and capital project decisions can involve sports arenas, convention centers, highway and street improvements, public transit equipment and facilities, water and sewer infrastructure, cultural and recreational facilities, technology for public safety and other services and the infrastructure and incentives needed for economic development.

The replacement or rehabilitation of older infrastructure and facilities is becoming just as important and as expensive as building the new capital projects to meet or spur growth.

City officials need strategies and systems for capital planning, budgeting and finance to meet the challenges of providing the infrastructure and public facilities needed by a community.

These strategies must concentrate on the largest or most expensive capital needs, address a multi-year or long-term time horizon, encompass planning and implementation as well as finance, and consider not only capital costs of projects but also their life cycle costs and impact on the future operating budgets.

A full-fledged and effective capital planning, budget, and finance process involves:

* Board approved and administrative policies to guide capital planning, budgeting and finance.

* Capital asset management systems that inventory and assess the condition of existing infrastructure, facilities and equipment.

* Strategic or comprehensive planning to identify new infrastructure to accommodate or spur growth.

* Multiyear capital improvement programming (CIP) and financial forecasting, usually extending five years or more into the future. …