17th Annual Municipal Survey

In Search Of The Silver Lining
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2014, Vol. 69 No. 2

The rehabilitation market, which has maintained at least some growth throughout the recession, should reach almost $7.1 billion or an increase of 8.4 percent. Cities short on money for major projects have found that increasing rehabilitation budgets to address specific and concentrated problems was still cheaper than funding major projects.

Conducted in October and November 2013, the survey polled U.S. municipalities about their 2014 infrastructure funding plans along with perspectives on technologies, trends, industry issues and working relationships with consulting engineers and contractors. The survey results came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, and were weighted for regional population density and city sizes to develop a nationwide benchmark that would allow for projections.

Responding cities ranged from very small such as: Savanah, NY ( population 950), Grandview, IN (851), Bayfield, WI (600) and Hot Springs, MT (655); to major metropolis’ such as New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Las Vegas, NV (Clark County), Honolulu, HI, Baltimore, Miami and Chicago; and every size in between.

Virtually all the cities, both large and small, expressed a very real concern about both the short- and long-term status of the funding sources for their water, storm water and sewer departments.

“Funding! Funding! Funding!” exclaimed this Pennsylvania municipal person when asked about their biggest issue of 2014. Indeed, the word “funding” and just about every derivations of the term were cited repeatedly in the survey.

“Doing more with no additional resources,” was a major concern of this Texas city official. That sentiment was also repeated frequently. Said a respondent from a major Northeast city, “we have fiscal issues with the added pressure of maintaining water rates.”

More with less

In fact, several city personnel expressed similar challenges that involve trying to maintain sewer/water systems without increasing their user fees. This official from an East Coast state cited “cash flow” as a significant problem for their municipality as it struggles to pay for necessary system maintenance and improvements.

Another interesting problem related to money was postulated by this respondent from a Southeastern city who pointed out that with all the conservation efforts, their city’s water department finds its cash flow falling due to “a customer base that continues to decrease water use and very little new growth of customer base.”