You see it every day. Exposed rebar underneath a concrete bridge. Alligator cracking in the street ahead. The water or sewer line break underneath the road that is blocked forcing a detour on your drive home. These are all visible evidence that Colorado cities and towns are struggling to find the dollars needed to maintain the infrastructure that keeps our society functioning.
The 2012 Colorado Municipal League State of Our Cities & Towns survey provides some insight into the depth of the infrastructure problem. Half of all cities and towns report unfunded street projects; 24 percent bridge projects; one third are looking for funding for repair or replacement projects for public buildings; 24 percent need dollars to replace wastewater plants; and 16 percent have drinking water facilities that are awaiting funding.
Don’t look for things to improve in 2012. When asked what is your biggest budget challenge 68 percent of municipalities responded funding for street maintenance. Not far behind at 48 percent are unfunded water and wastewater projects.
Local infrastructure funding has taken a series of hits during the Great Recession. Municipal budgets have shrunk over the past four years as municipal revenues have declined. The revenue picture began to inch upward in 2011 for a third of municipalities, but overall budgets for 2012 once again faced significant cuts. Another important source of funding for local infrastructure comes from the portion of state severance tax that was created to fund local capital projects needed to cope with impacts of the energy industry. Unfortunately these dollars have been diverted to support the state’s General Fund for the past several years, leaving many badly needed infrastructure projects high and dry. Future federal funding is uncertain. We anticipate a further decline in Community Development Block Grants that are used by many communities for these one-time projects.
A healthy economy would increase revenue and municipalities have been working hard to help themselves by investing time and money in economic development activities. 85 percent of all cities and towns invest in a broad range of efforts that include tourism marketing; tax incentives; buy-local campaigns; small business grants; business incubators; and redevelopment projects.
These efforts are paying off. Johnstown has attracted an Oil States International manufacturing facility that will create an estimated 250 jobs. Thanks to the city’s SolarTAC solar testing facility, Aurora will be the site of a 300-employee GE solar panel plant. Steamboat Springs is awarding micro-grants of up to $5,000 for small business expansion. Julesburg has developed athletic fields that now attract weekend youth sports teams from throughout the region. Halliburton is expanding its Fort Lupton facility that could nearly double their current 350 member staff. Alamosa is investing in special events such as the Early Iron Festival of classic cars that brings visitors and their dollars to the community. Loveland’s economic development efforts gained NASA’s Aerospace Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Park that has the potential to create more than 7,000 jobs in the coming years. These are a few examples of the municipal efforts that played a major role in attaining the 27,000 jobs created in Colorado last year.
The key to future success is a well-functioning infrastructure. This is a point well understood by our forefathers who invested in public infrastructure from the time of the Erie Canal to construction of the Interstate Highway System. Good roads, safe bridges and reliable domestic water systems are critical elements of a healthy economy.
Lakewood Council member Diana Allen serves as president of the Colorado Municipal League, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization established in 1923 which represents the interests of 265 cities and towns in the state. Sam Mamet is the organization’s executive director.