At first glance, the forecast for the year ahead calls for clear skies. But dig a little deeper, and the outlook gets murkier. To get a handle on how public works departments are being financially supported in their efforts to care for the infrastructure, both on a day-to-day level as well as for major improvements, we asked readers in early November to share their 2007 budgetary expectations. We received 440 responses, a 1.4% response rate. Our 2007 Forecast presents those results.
Our special report on the 2007 funding forecast takes an in-depth look at 2007 finances and their impact on supply costs, fleets, municipal solid waste, public grounds, wastewater and stormwater, and water.
2007 Forecast: Variable Conditions
Budget increases are outpacing cuts 5 to 1 this year, 12 percent of public works budgets were cut going into 2007, and one-third are flat compared to 2006. The bottom line: Funding for public intrastructure is up, but not enough to suite most managers' needs.
2007 Forecast: Supply Costs
Asphalt, concrete prices stabilize; still outpace inflation.
2007 Forecast: Fleets
Even though truck sales in general are declining, sales to state and local governments will remain even with last year. Municipal fleets won't feel the money crunch or tightening emissions crunch until late 2007 or 2008 -- and later.
2007 Forecast: Municipal Solid Waste
Not a lot to worry about here this year: As long as there's garbage, municipal solid waste (MSW) managers will have a job. The issues they'll face this year, however, are where that garbage is going and how its treatment is changing. As recycling grows, the amount of waste sent to landfills is dropping. So the waste is still there, but it's being handled differently.
2007 Forecast: Public Grounds
As it did last year, "green space" is becoming increasingly important as we lose more of it to development. Today's policy makers are more aware of how urban forests cool cities, lower energy consumption, and reduce greenhouse gases. The bottom line: green is growing in value.
2007 Forecast: Wastewater and Stormwater
Even more than drinking-water systems, increased demand on the nation's waste-water system is not being met with increased funding. As urban populations continue to boom and infrastructure ages, how long can system managers keep tightening their belts before the shortfall leads to catastrophe?
2007 Forecast: Water
When it comes to the nation's potable-water supply, critical issues remain the same as last year, though some items -- like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations -- shift slightly as scientists obtain more information about the effects of various compounds and impurities on public health.