The Good, The Bad & The Hope: 16th Annual Municipal Survey

Despite Extended Budget Crisis, Majority Expect Accelerated Spending
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2013, Vol. 68 No. 2

As the old saying goes, money makes the world go round. From the municipal perspective, the world stopped going round about four years ago. But there is emerging a legitimate undertone of hope for improvement emerging from many municipal personnel.

The 16th Annual Underground Construction Municipal Sewer & Water Survey includes a detailed look at 2013 spending plans for America’s cities along with insights and perspectives from municipal officials.

After several years of recession and being continuously squeezed by deep budget cuts, municipalities across the country are still waiting for an economic turnaround or a state/federal budgeting miracle that will finally provide some kind of financial relief for cash-strapped city sewer, water and storm water departments.

A huge majority of respondents to the survey consistently ranked funding as their biggest challenge in 2013 – even more so than in years past, the survey revealed. As one West Coast public works director point out, “Will it take a disaster to make them (governments) understand just how desperate our situation really is?” Another Northeast respondent added, “I almost wish the EPA would come down on us – at least it would force our city council to focus on underground infrastructure for a change!”

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However, for some, it is not about obtaining funding; rather, it’s their ability to repay loans. “We know that we can get funding – there are sources (including private) available,” admitted a respondent from the Mid-Atlantic region. “Problem is we don’t have enough cash flow to pay back loans without raising user fees substantially. But our city admin doesn’t want to hit our residents with what would amount to a major tax hike until the economy is much improved. It’s a classic catch-22 situation.”

Many survey respondents also complained that there is still a fear of spending their annual budgets. “Our city is hanging onto every precious dime of revenue,” said this municipal Arizona respondent. “We’ve still got money left over in our budget for 2012 that our managers were afraid to spend. We’ll never see it, either.”

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