January 7, 2013 by Omar Passons
Update as of 9.15.13: Please see the comments section for an update of the Draft Council Prioritization Policy discussed below. Nod to Joe LaCava for pointing this out and sharing the link.
If you want to read Part I of the series click here. It’s background. I haven’t been able to think of cool pictures to break up all the text, so if you have any that are appropriate, please send them over. Moving right along. I know, CIPRAC sounds like bad medicine or a villain from some cartoon. It’s actually the
abbreviation initials for the Capital Improvement Program Advisory Committee.The CIPRAC is made up of people from all sorts of City departments and they get together to work through prioritizing the CIP projects that will get funded each year and also to talk about strategies for improving the process. Here’s the city’s explanation of the CIPRAC.
The reason I included an explanation of the CIPRAC is because that group has a very significant impact on which projects get included in the CIP, why they are included, and how quickly those projects get built. There are at least two major aspects of prioritizing what we want our city to build, before we can talk about what the CIPRAC does it’s worth taking a moment to think about the big picture.
The Big Picture
We’ve got a city that we can probably all agree we want to be as safe as possible. This probably means we need fire stations and police stations and water/sewer pipes that work properly. We might even agree that we need some parks for people to play in and we need some buildings and major structures at the beaches to keep us safe and help all those Zonies come out and spend money every summer when its 8,000 degrees in Arizona. The real big picture questions start coming in when we think about the other types of investments we want our hard earned tax dollars to go to, where in our city those investments should be and what kind of timetable we might want for getting those investments done.
This is the big picture because it’s about how we see ourselves as a city and how we want to spend our money to get to that vision. A parallel example might be what I want out of life with the money I make working. If it’s really important to me to be able to travel to Italy every year, I might want to invest in property there to make the long-term expenses low. Or if I want make a bike my primary transportation I may want to invest in some top of the line bike with a booster pack and really good tires. Those decisions involve trade-offs. Similarly, if we want our city to be first and foremost a place where all of its residents are able to be and feel safe, then we’d need to prioritize catching up the parts of the city that don’t have enough fire stations or street lights with the parts that do. Or if our highest priority is attracting and keeping major corporations that have good-paying jobs and those corporations say they will only come with better transit infrastructure between downtown and the major universities, then that might drive our decisions for the future. Whatever we decide, it is the most basic first step before we can get to prioritizing the very large list of projects that need doing.
Prioritizing the Projects
The City Council has adopted Council Policy 800-14, which lays out a prioritization guideline for all of the projects in the CIP. Here’s a copy of the policy. The idea is to have some objective standards for figuring out which of the long list of projects should be done first. As mentioned above, one overarching consideration probably should be how the project fits into our vision of what we want to be as a city. But on a practical level there are several other things the City needs to consider. So the actual policy includes things like whether the project has a major safety impact and whether there is funding available and the condition of the asset that might get the funding. All these things come into play. By the way, the City is also considering changes to that policy. Here’s a look at the last time some proposed changes were brought forward on July 25, 2012.
The CIPRAC in Action
The budgeting process for the following year’s CIP budget actually gets moving in October of each year as the CIPRAC starts to get information on projects from each of the “asset-owning departments.” This is a shorthand term that refers to Departments that actually take care of physical assets, as opposed to more managerial or administrative roles. The Parks and Recreation Department is an asset-owning department because it has all the parks and recreation centers—actual assets—as opposed to the Engineering and Capital Projects Department who have an important role in designing and administering projects but don’t own any actual assets.
To understand the CIPRAC I will be attaching the meeting minutes for all of the CIPRAC meetings in 2011 and 2012, unaltered exactly as I received them. This will give you a sense of the types of things they talk about. Those should come in the next couple days as I have time. It’s worth noting that getting these minutes was REALLY REALLY easy. It’s not always this easy to get public documents, but the people who work with and for James Nagelvoort in the Capital Projects Department are quite pleasant and thorough and generally happy to get information to the public. I found them delightful and fully expect that spirit of cooperation to spread like a happy little virus with the new administration. *I’ve brought my new soapbox over from my fun site, and am stepping down off it now.* I’ll probably circle back with a separate post about some of the interesting things I found in those minutes, but you can download them yourself once I get a spare minute to figure out how to attach them. I will also attached a little PowerPoint presentation that explains some of the changes the CIPRAC has been considering recommending to the City Council to make the prioritization work even better (it’s basically background to the link above). I hope this information helps you understand the process a little better and how you can interact with your City staff to get questions answered. Thanks for dropping by.