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?

Another public works director says that although maintenance spending for his department remains level, increasing fuel, materials, and labor costs mean “this is basically a slight reduction for us. The only positive is the excellent bid climate for services and projects, which is realizing savings in our contract programs.”

And still another, who will see a decrease in operations funding, brings forth a hot-topic complaint: “Continued drop in local sales tax combined with an unwillingness to trim nonessential services (festivals, parades, etc.), combined with increased costs for resources (asphalt, fuel, concrete, etc.), result in continued decline in the ability to maintain infrastructure. This leads to increasing utility/roadway failures, which enhances the public outcry against fair wages and pension benefits of public employees.”

Speaking of crumbling infrastructure, many of this year's respondents are saying enough is finally enough: If we don't want to shut down roads and bridges or turn off streetlights, budgets need to be increased — somehow, someway.

“We're paying the price for not completing regular preventative maintenance on an ongoing basis. It's to the point where we're playing catch-up and physically cannot postpone these activities any longer.”

For some, accomplishing this has required moving line items around to funnel resources to address the most critical needs.

“Our capital improvement plan has been slashed to offset increased operational costs,” explains one West Coast survey-taker.

At least one respondent is waiting for federal legislators to get their collective act together and finally address long-term infrastructure funding: “What's happening with the transportation bill is a travesty that's impacting our ability to move projects forward.” (For the latest on efforts to renew the national surface transportation program, see page 15 of our news section.)

Even when budgets remain level, respondents reminded us that planned expenditures aren't always approved when it's time to award a project. “Sometimes pulling teeth is easier than getting a preventative maintenance tool,” says a utilities supervisor. If and when spending is allowed, reduced staffing levels make it difficult to maintain service levels and/or complete projects without eliminating nonessential elements.

“The city came into existence with the predominant purpose of maintaining the streets in the community. If property owners want/expect more, they'll have to approve a tax rate increase.”

Another respondent says there was no choice but to increase capital expenditures: “The city's done without for so many years that it should start to increase.”

Sounds like our economy. Or so we hope.