Baby Steps: 14th Annual Municipal Survey

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

After more than two years of declining revenues, tightening budgets and helplessly watching from the sidelines as their sewer and water infrastructure continues to decay and they are increasingly struggling to maintain current service levels, U.S. municipal personnel are hoping to experience at least a minor measure of improvement in 2011.

But the biggest obstacle -- and concern -- for municipalities along that path of better conditions remains the financial health of not only their cities, but both state and the Federal governments as well. City personnel are well-aware that much of their ability to service and maintain infrastructure is tied directly into state and federal loan and grant programs such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRLF) and Clean Water Act (CWA) funding. Unfortunately, the news on the funding front remains cloudy at best. And the odds for increased federal funding, at least for 2011 – 12, are in a word, dismal.

With that reality in front of them, most municipal personnel anticipate only minor funding improvements in 2011 though they acknowledge the second half of the year could see a change for the better – if only in baby steps.

This information and more was revealed in Underground Construction’s industry exclusive 14th Annual Municipal Sewer and Water Infrastructure Survey. Conducted in October and November 2010, the survey polled U.S. municipalities about their 2010 actual spending and 2011budgeted infrastructure funding programs along with their perspectives on technologies, trends, issues and working relationships with consulting engineers and contractors. The survey results are subdivided by regions and city populations to develop a nationwide benchmark for projections.

Show us the money
It is no surprise that funding would be foremost on the minds of municipal personnel. In fact, the words ‘funding, budget and rate increases’ were repeatedly mentioned in written comments. With the new political dynamic in government, Congress has a mandate to control spending and that will probably mean additional budget cuts.

Federal infrastructure funding already took a hit when Congress allowed the Build America Bonds (BAB) program, created by the 2009 stimulus bill, to expire at the end of 2010. The program subsidized the interest rates cities and counties paid to investors who purchased bonds used to finance local infrastructure projects such as sewers.