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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Candidate Question #7 Infrastructure

Question#7: Infrastructure

Failure to reinvest in the maintenance and upgrade of the city water plant was a key factor in the decision to relinquish responsibility and oversight of a significant municipal asset. How can we prevent losses of this magnitude in the future?

I disagree with the basic premise of this question concerning the Water purification plant because the plant is still an asset of the city, still wholly-owned by the City, leased to an Authority of the City, with all members appointed by the Mayor of the City. An asset is something of value that gives the owner a return on the asset. The leasing of the plant is using an asset to get a return; in this case outright lease payments equal to or higher than the amount earned when it was operated by the City and at least $1 million per year during the term of the lease in infrastructure improvements to our water distribution system.

However, I do agree that we cannot allow our assets to deteriorate to the extent of the water plant. There was no capital replacement program in this important asset and much needed service and upgrades needed were delayed for lack of proper capital budgeting. We need to be more proactive in our capital budget planning. Coupled with our multiple-year general fund budget, our 5-year capital replacement budget program will protect our assets for future generations of Eastonians to enjoy.

Additionally, time must be set aside to give employees an opportunity to perform preventative maintenance on equipment, vehicles, buildings, furniture and all other assets of the city.

The failure to reinvest in the maintenance of the city water plant was a key factor, but a factor that was just as key (if not more) was the financial situation of the city where we were not able to borrow the money needed to upgrade the plant. Both of these are significant problems. Our first priority should be to move the city to a very stable financial position. Once we reach this position our bond rating improves and we have the capability to finance the 20+ million dollar renovation to the water plant.

In assessing the city’s assets we can identify our infrastructure and the maintenance required to maintain each asset. The waste water treatment plant is currently in excellent condition and the capacity of the plant is estimated to be sufficient for the next 10 – 15 years. We need to start developing plans now on how that upgrade might occur. Our parks system is extensive and in many cases the parks have fallen into disrepair and in many cases are unsafe for children to play. Our sewage collection system is very old is most likely providing inflow and infiltration into our sanitary collection system increasing flow to the waste water treatment plant. Our road network is being over burdened by increasing traffic. These and other components of the infrastructure of very old cities (like Easton) will be in constant need of repair and replacement. We need to develop a line item in the budget for these repairs and/or replacement of the infrastructure of the city and in addition develop a better management system to manage the entire infrastructure system. This is best accomplished using a geographical information system or GIS. A well developed GIS has been repeatedly shown to increase efficiency of infrastructure management resulting in overall savings. I have significant experience in the development of GIS for local municipalities and have been working with the city to develop a system. Through conducting an inventory of the infrastructure assets, developing plans to provide ongoing maintenance (with budgeted line items) and enhanced management form GIS technology we will be better able to understand what we have, maintain it and manage it.

The simple answer is to stop wasting money on nonsensical projects, and work our wallets closer to our vision. I wish the answer was that easy.

The reality of the situation is that we need not just financial audits of the city, but also performance and structural audits as well. We need to know well in advance, when we are going to need a new fire truck, or street sweeper. We need to know 5 years ahead of time, if it will be cheaper to rent a building for city hall, or to purchase one and maintain it ourselves. We need to remove supervisors who cannot properly run a department, and replace them with qualified individuals that aren't getting these jobs because they're not friends of whatever politician is in office.

The biggest and best thing that can be done is to implement a Citizens Oversight Committee. They will have the power to remove people that are inept or just plain lazy, and to keep this city moving ahead.

The city’s finances need to be put in order so that, should we need a bond issue, our bonds could be rated well enough for such an issue to take place. Improving the tax base by improving property values in undervalued neighborhoods, collecting past due revenue, and cutting consultants out of the budget would all help, but it’s important to note that remedying the projected deficits of the next five to 10 years can’t happen overnight. We need to begin planning now.

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