Does UH Need a Capital Budget Plan?
What is the plan for University Heights 5, 10 or 15 years from now? We know we will have to replace garbage and fire trucks, repave streets and repair water lines. Do we have a plan? Have we decided the priorities? Do we know how this plan for the future will be financed over the next 5, 10 or 15 years?
The answer to all of the above is no. We have no plan. Some ask why we can’t just use the annual operating budget as we’ve always done. The annual operating budget handles the daily nuts and bolts of running the city—paper clips, salaries, electric bills. It does not provide the multiyear framework needed to fiscally plan for the purchase, repair or replacement of big-ticket items.
A capital budget plan provides that mechanism and is essential to a city’s future. It identifies projects, prioritizes them and creates a fiscal plan to provide funding. What are capital projects? They are essential public purpose items of long useful life, infrequent and expensive purchases, replacements or repairs.
Capital budget plans reflect how a city sees itself in the coming years. These investments make our city a healthy, safe, economically viable and physically attractive place in which to live and work.Why not just save, then purchase essential public capital items, such as garbage collection trucks, fire trucks, police cars, street paving, curbs, sewer/water lines? Did you save cash for 30 years before buying your house? No, you are paying off the mortgage while living in your house. We didn’t wait to save $682,200 before repaving University Parkway. As Councilman Sims stated, “It is not unusual or improper to borrow funds to complete a capital improvement project."
As taxpayers, we want to know our taxes will be used to ensure a bright and independent University Heights. A published capital budget plan will document that.
In 2008, KeyBanc Capital Markets made a presentation to council on certain aspects of funding municipal capital expenses. Has public discussion or action been taken on the merits of a capital budget plan? Not to my knowledge.
Some say we do not need capital planning for our city—that regionalization, mergers and outsourcing will reduce our need to pay for these expensive items over time. But we know, there is no free lunch. We will pay—if not to University Heights, then to another city or entity.
Let us not wait until it is too late to dig our well, or to plan for the big-ticket items required to run our city. Let us begin a capital budget planning process now.
Send your comments and suggestions for future topics to Anita Kazarian at AnitaKazarian@gmail.com.