Bump in the road?
Uh, oh. After two consecutive years of better budgets for both day-to-day operations and long-term goals, respondents report slight cuts to both for 2014.
That won’t, however, negatively impact programs in either of those areas. Even with fewer resources, more respondents than last year say their department doesn’t plan to reduce maintenance programs or postpone planned improvements.
Proving, once again, that public works always finds a way to maintain quality of life.
Continue reading to see how eight departments across the country plan to overcome their communities’ unique infrastructure challenges this year. You may find an idea or two to steal. Also, feel free to e-mail what your team is doing to Editor in Chief Stephanie Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Closed until Congress agrees
In mid-October 2013, Congress set the stage for another budget stalemate in a couple more months. How will your department be affected if the federal government shuts down again?
On Oct. 17, 2013, President Obama signed into law a bill that ended a two-week partial federal government shutdown and suspended the federal debt ceiling. The stopgap funding measure keeps the federal government funded through Jan. 15, 2014, at an annual level of $986.3 billion, the current level under sequestration, and suspends the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, 2014. (As of press time, the measure was still in effect.) States and grantees were reimbursed for costs incurred to operate federal programs paid by federal appropriations.
So we didn’t default on our debt. But we could be in the midst of yet another stalemate as you read this.
Late last year, an equal number of our annual Outlook survey respondents said that would be no big deal or only slightly impact operations. Fewer than 10% said it would be a nightmare.
Here are a few comments on how local public works could be impacted:
- [Frozen] state and federal street maintenance funds.
- We could lose grant money.
- Not at all, we’ll keep the party up and running.
A couple of respondents even saw a potential shutdown in a positive light:
- [Opportunity to] improve local voter issues for self-funding mechanisms.
- Less oversight and enforcement of bad legislation.
The most disturbing comment, however, reminds us how dangerous a halt in federal programs is for both essential local services and emergency management: “We had a mercury incident during the [October 2013] shutdown that cost the city more than $100,000 because the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) wasn’t able to respond.”
Nor was that an isolated incident.
National news detailed how the pause in EPA’s operations canceled inspections at water and sewage treatment plants and landfills. Policymaking efforts, including a Congressional hearing on a toxic water situation in Florida, stalled. The shutdown hampered clean-up efforts in South Dakota after a freak blizzard left thousands of cattle dead along roadsides, with no option to receive timely federal disaster relief.
According to the American Public Works Association, nearly 130 highway and bridge projects were stalled in 35 states. If we see another shutdown in January, we can expect more of the same.
To teach residents and elected officials how that would affect their quality of life, download the American Society of Civil Engineers’ free infrastructure Report Card smart phone app. It has a ton of facts and figures about funding shortfalls in all infrastructure sectors—roads, dams, parks, water and wastewater, solid waste, you name it.