Cost Accounting in Local Government

The Need for an Infrastructure Czar

I suppose I should have paid greater attention in my Organizational Development classes during my BPA and MPA experiences, but frankly I found them boring and not particularly relevant to getting a municipal job. Certainly no one was going to ask me to restructure any organization right out of university.  And I was right. I never did get the chance to draw boxes that resulted in wholesale moving of people and responsibilities around.  In working with more than 100 clients, I have learned that parks maintenance can be under any number of departments, same as the library. There is no norm for these and many others.  Certainly all of you in the finance field are well aware of this.  In most cases, the locations of the orphans worked well where they were, in that organization, with that staff.  But I have learned a bit about what is missing in most organizations.  And note, my suggestions do not necessarily require the addition of new staff.  In my May 2013 column I wrote about the need for an overall Revenue Czar in the City.  I stated that:

…a revenue book assigned to a revenue czar with the authority to quiz anyone about revenue information could help to eliminate [revenue flow] problems, and eliminate surprises.   Even if it is hard to find the time to create it and maintain a revenue book, having one will probably save you time, money and the occasional red face.

In February 2013, I made the argument that:

The Levels of Service (LOS) of any given City service provided to the residents or businesses is based upon (or limited by) the finite capacity of the infrastructure related to that service.

I now have a recommendation for an additional Czar. This time it is an Infrastructure Czar and the creation of a General Plan build-out based Master Facilities Plan (or MFP).  There needs to be someone in the City who has the responsibility for identifying and keeping track of all needed capital projects through General Plan build-out, not merely the next five years.  The Master Facilities Plan (MFP) would include a simplified explanation of each project included in the more highly detailed Master Plan.  Master Plans are great to have but tend to have too much detail to be read by the average Council member or citizen.  The MFP would have a single page summarizing each project in simple terms with a simple definition, need or cause, consequences of not constructing, cost, etc.  It would also be a good source for identifying projects that should be financed by development via development impact fees (DIFs).

The MFP would include such projects as police station and community center expansions, parks, R.O.W. acquisitions and street widenings.  Major replacement efforts should also be included.  I am not suggesting that this infrastructure czar undertake the identification of the projects. This person instead would work with the various infrastructure managers who are defined as the people most responsible for a given infrastructure (e.g. an engineer may be responsible for circulation and storm drainage projects or a fire executive who can identify needed fire stations as the City builds-out).  A great deal of this information may already exist in a Master Plan, but not all infrastructures have such a document and thus may not be identified.  Certainly your five-year capital plan could come from this MFP document.  Again, in February 2013, regarding the Revenue Czar, I wrote:

No one likes surprises or errors, a revenue book assigned to a revenue czar with the authority to quiz anyone about revenue information could help to eliminate problems, and eliminate surprises.

The same holds true for capital projects. No one wants to be surprised with a previously unidentified project that has somehow been accelerated to immediate problem, especially not the City Council in general and your boss, the City Manager, specifically.  All of my DIF clients receive an MFP as part of the DIF calculation effort and all have expressed that it assisted them in all project planning.  If you want to see a sample, contact me via this website and I’ll pass along a pdf of one.

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