August 11, 2016

Stewardship of Our Physical Assets – Or, Paying for the Things We Take for Granted

One of the greatest challenges we currently face is the unfortunate convergence of a number of long-neglected, big-ticket items hitting at the same time.  Not only have we continually deferred infrastructure and equipment maintenance and scheduled replacements over the past several years, we’ve also not been setting aside any funds for those needs, either.

Nobody likes paying for this stuff, especially those things we can’t even see or enjoy in a tangible way.  There’s nothing sexy about public works infrastructure.  But we’re talking about the very basics of municipal service.  When we turn our faucets on, clean water needs to come out.  When we flush our toilets, we expect their contents to disappear, as if by magic.  These are not luxuries.  They’re necessities.  If there is to be a debate about our priorities, it must be about wants, rather than needs.

Fortunately, we’re in a blessed position in which we are able to take care of all our basic needs.  Our priorities are not mutually exclusive.  We don’t need to cut back on funding for police protection in order to pay for public works.  We can do all of those things.

But we also know we cannot complete all of our needed infrastructure projects all at once (a more than $300 million proposition).  So we take them on systematically, in manageable bites each year, according to their relative priority.  Sticking our heads in the sand won’t make our infrastructure problems go away.

It’s incumbent on us as your city leaders, the City Council and City Manager, to identify these projects, assess their relative priority and our ability to budget for them, and then come up with constructive solutions.  This responsibility is something we take very seriously.  And everything we do is fully transparent—the fact that some choose to criticize our efforts demonstrates they know about them.

We employ highly qualified professionals to monitor the state of our physical assets and to make recommendations on maintenance, repairs and eventual replacements.  There’s a certain irony when we then vilify and question the motives of those who are doing their jobs, because we don’t like what they find.

As a community, this is a conversation we need to be having.  Do we recognize these problems and are we willing to address them?  Are we a premier city that takes care of the basics, or will we continue to Band-Aid our way through, crossing our fingers it’ll hold?  Ultimately, it’s a question of stewardship:  Will we take care of our assets, or continue passing the problem to successive generations?