City Set to Take Long View on Capital Upgrades

He recently referred to himself as “the czar of capital dollars.”
With San Marino’s shiny new Capital Improvements Plan ready to be cemented when the 2018-19 budget is adopted, Michael Throne is ready to put it into action. As the director of the city’s Parks and Public Works Department and also the city engineer, the plan is his baby, so to speak. The program is the city’s first.
“We decided we were going to break tradition and get one,” Throne said recently, while briefing the city’s Public Safety Commission on his department’s activity. “Where we are is assessment of condition and function.”
In a plan approved unofficially by the City Council, Throne will spend this fiscal year running a variety of condition assessments on utility systems and city property and also developing maintenance programs that will go into keeping them up to snuff. Once this “assembly line” of public works is made, he said, he’ll be able to use the department’s resources to start its work — be it on a collapsed sewer culvert or a building in need of roof repairs.
“The whole deal with a capital improvements plan is that you focus on categories and programs and not specific projects,” Throne explained in an earlier presentation. “You can get stuck into a process where you just think about projects and you think, ‘Well, I just need to fix this over there, and I just need to build this over here.’ You lose sight of not only the forest, but where you are going when you pass through the forest. It does not allow you to plan long term.”
As part of the CIP, the city has a five-year forecast of what its budget will look like to help keep sight of that forest. Because of this, city officials already have cast their eyes toward a budget that includes a significantly ramped-up street rehabilitation program starting next year, after the condition assessment this year.
This is hopefully a step that will end the perpetual tendency to kick maintenance or improvement projects down the road, which tends to make for a larger bill at the end of the day.
“You’re seeing that in neighboring communities, where they’re continually deferring maintenance,” Throne said. “Once it’s passed about 10 years, it becomes very difficult to recover from that.”
Another focus of the program will be to set aside funds to account for the depreciation of capital equipment, as well as planning for the life expectancy of structural assets. A key point in creating a separate budget for the CIP is that its funds are dedicated, opening the door for a plethora of outside funding sources for infrastructure projects.
To help keep a “wish list” of these capital projects, Throne also has devised a series of forms to be filled out by each department explaining the need, the reasons behind it and how it ranks in an established priority list (for example, “mandatory” would trump an “investment to sustain asset value”).
All of this is to follow one arm of the city’s newly adopted Strategic Plan, a critical success factor titled “Well Maintained Infrastructure.”
“When you think about programming, you think about financial programming,” Throne said. “If you start thinking about it, you can start planning these projects ahead.
“Again, if you have a plan, then at least you have the knowledge that, at some point, you’ll have to deal with something,” he added. “We have infrastructure that dates back to the ’20s. It’s worked fine for us, but when it doesn’t work fine, it will do so in a very expensive way.”

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