Launch Slideshow

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A slow climb from rock bottom

A slow climb from rock bottom

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    For which of the following is your department responsible? Check all that apply.

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    This year, only 93 of our 600 survey respondents plan to award projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Of those, 58 are road improvements or repairs, 42 are related to stormwater, and 39 concern wastewater. (Respondents were allowed to select more than one type of project.)

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    How many years have you postponed maintenance activities to meet budgetary goals?

Your peers tell all

City Fiscal Conditions reported that most communities were responding to falling tax receipts by delaying infrastructure projects as well as cutting personnel and services. To further gauge how public works budgets are faring, we e-mailed readers our annual outlook survey in November. Nearly 600 responded.

Half expect their operations & maintenance (O&M) spending to remain the same this year as compared to 2011, nearly one-third expect to spend more, and one-fifth expect to spend less. What's more, two-thirds don't expect to postpone maintenance activities to meet budgetary goals. This is an improvement over the last few years of survey responses, although certainly not as optimistic as responses from prerecession years (see “Oh, how times have changed” sidebar on page 46).

Spending expectations for capital improvements are also the best we've seen in four years. One-third of respondents expect their budget to stay the same, close to one-third expect it to increase, and one-third expect it to decrease. Little more than half don't think they'll have to postpone or suspend either major improvements or new construction for another year.

“There are things that have been waiting to be fixed and now we can afford it!” concurs a wastewater treatment plant manager.

Even so, many respondents commented that the numbers don't tell the full story.

A public works director who has more to spend on maintenance and major improvements this year says it's only because of a 1% sales tax increase and that, even with it, most line items remain flat. “The increase in operating budget is due to the additional revenue going to projects that have been deferred for several years.”