Public administrators’ days are filled with an array of citizen calls, department needs and project tasks. It becomes increasingly difficult to devote a substantial amount of time to long-term planning. Taking time to plan can pay off with higher wins in securing grant dollars and potentially lower project costs.
In order to get ahead of it, it’s time to start taking measures to pull the appropriate information together. Whether you’re new to the process, or are looking for a different perspective, we’ve developed a basic overview that will help navigate you through the step by step activities.
A prudent multi-year capital plan identifies and prioritizes expected needs based on a community’s strategic plan, establishes project scope and cost, details estimated amounts of funding from various sources, and projects future operating and maintenance costs. A capital plan should cover a period of at least three years, preferably five or more.
— Government Finance Officers Association, 2006
Ahhh! Where do I begin…? Let’s make a list!
Make a basic list of your community’s capital assets and infrastructure. A few great resources that you may already have include your fixed asset report, pavement rating reports, building, bridge and sidewalk conditions surveys . Evaluate what level of repair is needed, how often the repairs need to be made, and get an estimate for the cost to undergo the improvement.
Structure the data in a useful format for later sorting and making periodic adjustments when an asset gets replaced, improved or removed. This can be a simple excel spreadsheet or a more sophisticated software program, such as Assetfinda or Cityworks that incorporates your GIS, asset management and financial data all into one platform to give you a robust tool for capital planning.
Great, I have my list now what!?
Now assess what are the critical needs in your community. Are there specific areas that citizens are concerned about such as storm water improvements to remedy reoccurring flooding; pedestrian safety enhancements at busy intersections; or that road full of potholes? You may not know all these details so we encourage you to seek opportunities to engage with your residents, business owners and stakeholders to provide opportunities for valuable feedback.
It is also important to get input from your department managers and review any comprehensive planning documents. Action items should be reviewed to ensure you target funds based on the community’s vision. There are also many internet-based public input platforms available, such as MindMixer or Crowdbrite, to initiate online dialogue and increase the level of public engagement and input throughout the planning process. This can also set the stage for long-term public engagement and relation with the community. These efforts will ensure that you have created a thorough and comprehensive list.
We know what’s important, but can we fund it?
Next, you will need to determine your anticipated revenues.
- Identify all of your community’s resources; grants, partnerships, foundations, public private partnerships, volunteers.
- Do you anticipate any areas of growth in your local and regional economy?
- Are there any subdivision plans under review with your Planning Commission?
- Are your permit issuance numbers increasing?
These can give you an indication that new construction is anticipated.
- Or are you seeing signs of weakening in your local economy?
- Has the number of vacancies increased?
- Have you anticipated the impact on community revenues resulting from revisions to the municipal income tax code?
Don’t forget, I’m required to do these other things…
Define which types of capital investment projects your municipality is required to implement.
- Are there permit requirements that your wastewater plant needs to meet?
- Is there critical infrastructure nearing its useful life?
- How are you managing your fleet rotation?
Plan out five years, and put them in priority order. Town hall meetings provide a great opportunity to get feedback on priorities as well as to create awareness within the community on needs as opposed to wants.
What else should I Consider?
- Collaborate with your department mangers on projects, they can tell you what can be deferred and what is urgent.
- Don’t forget to evaluate all costs, including ongoing maintenance, insurance and operations.
- Be sure to select projects to be funded according to the priorities agreed earlier.
- Match projects with funding cycles and resources you identified and what can be realistically achievable within the five year time frame.
Publicly discuss the list of priority projects; how the projects will be completed, the funding sources secured or to be applied for; the partnerships that may be required for implementation; which department will take the lead and the timelines for project completion. Adjust the list if necessary. Have the project priority list approved at a public hearing, this can help deter pet projects, or a very vocal minority demand and will continue to aid in future budget development as a supporting document that has been vetted out by all.
Be Patient and Stick to Your Plan
The importance of Community Asset Planning cannot be underestimated. It a critical tool to understand the current state of the community, determine priorities and to develop a roadmap for success. Start simple and make adjustments to your process once you’ve determined what works and what doesn’t. Be sure to stick to your plan, your efforts will be rewarded!
Jennifer Brown, Economic Development Strategist
Jen draws upon her 13 years of public administration and economic development experience to provide CT Consultants’ clients with economic development and funding strategies that position them for long-term success. Jen can be reached at (440) 530-2245 or jbrown[at]ctconsultants.com.