The CIPRAC Pt III – 2011 and 2012 budget related meetings

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January 21, 2013 by Omar Passons

I’ve covered the basics of how the city builds things (here) and the group responsible for prioritizing those things (here).  This post takes a look at the monthly meetings of that group.  You’ll recall it’s the Capital Improvement Program Advisory Committee, or CIPRAC, and it’s made up of internal City officials from key Departments.  I’ve attached all the meeting minutes from 2011 and 2012, and some thoughts and commentary about what they all mean.  Here goes…For ease, I’ve put the link to the pdf followed by a few questions or comments, if I have any.  For some of the questions, I’ll be following up with the City personnel who are responsible for providing public information.  Before I get started here’s the Citizen’s Guide to the City’s Budget Process.  It sounds kind of boring, but is written in a pretty easy to understand way and since how our elected officials choose to spend our money is the best way to know what the priorities are,  reading this is a big help. Also, the City plans based on “fiscal years,” which aren’t from January to December.  A fiscal year (described here) is a year for budgeting purposes. In San Diego, it goes from July 1st to the next June 30th each year. Now, on to the CIPRAC details.

Here are the questions and observations I had:

The January 2011 meeting included a discussion of changes to the Uptown (around Hillcrest area) Developer Impact Fee amounts.  As a reminder, “DIF” is money that developers must pay to offset impacts of their projects on the community.  Here’s an explanation.  Because of the role of fees like this, asking about your community’s DIF fees and how often they are re-calculated is important to paying for some of the items in your community.

Also in January, there is a solid discussion about planning for new Information Technology.  It shows that the City staff spent time analyzing the impact of having new buildings on IT costs.

The February 2011 meeting shows City staff Angela Colton describing the Proposed CIP budget for Fiscal Year 2012.  The notes mention that it is difficult to get operations and maintenance (often called just “O & M” for short) information from the Transportation & Stormwater Department on time.  Because O & M expenses are important for budgeting, one question is why the information is difficult to obtain and what causes the delay?

In the May 2011 meeting, Departments staff from various areas are asked to report back on the priority score of certain projects in the draft budget.  One question, of course, is if the priority score determines whether a project is a high enough priority to get into the budget, how are there any projects that are already included but haven’t been scored yet?  This seems backwards.  Maybe there are reasonable explanations for this.  Maybe the scores change from year to year, so the projects do have scores and they were just being updated.  Maybe there is a score and it’s just an innocent oversight.  Or maybe the desired project is included with no score, for whatever reason, and then the priority score is developed to fit it into the budget.  This would be a good question to have answered.

In the September 2011 meeting there is a discussion under Item IV that information on proposed projects was gathered from conditions assessments of three types of public property.  Where are these complete lists?  These should be available for any member of the public to see if the amount of money claimed matches the actual need.  Also, there is a note in Item VII about basing priority scores on funding sources.  One the one hand, this might make sense because a project that has money is more likely to get built.  On the other hand, should the goal be to identify the highest priority projects based on some criteria and then find the money to fix those first?

The November 2011 meeting includes an interesting discussion of a competition in funding between the Lake Murray Children’s Playground and the Navajo Department 34 Fire Station facility upgrade.  Although the fire station was removed from consideration in the next meeting, it highlights the issue of trade-offs between various competing needs within a community.  It also might raise the question whether the fire station was pulled because the need was reevaluated or because the policy makers wanted the children’s playground to have a higher priority or some other reason.  I’m not making a suggestion either way, nor that either reason for changing was inappropriate, but this is the type of question we ought to be able to ask and answer about spending public funds on two important priorities.

June through September of 2012 are interesting meetings because Parks & Recreation, Fire, Public Utilities and the Library Department all took turns explaining how they prioritize which items need to be repaired or replaced.  The rationale varies dramatically from “no scientific basis” or “based on community input” to “rigorous evidence” approach.  The reason this issue matters is because we only have so much money as a City and if we are going to make decisions about where to spend it that aren’t based on science, we ought to know if that is the best choice, if there are reasonable alternatives to get more precise information and what the trade-offs are.  There are skilled people using sophisticated software to keep track of the City-owned assets.  Having citizen participation helps make sure that we are getting the most out of the methods we use to improve our city.

Here is a complete list of the meeting minutes I reviewed:

From 2012

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