CLIC season is underway

CLIC season is underway.

by Becca Vargo Daggett

What is CLIC? From the Capital Long-range Improvement Committee Bylaws: “It shall be the mission of CLIC to advise the Mayor and City Council on the City’s capital improvement program policy and process, five-year, or multi-year capital improvement programs, and annual capital improvement budgets.” 

In practice, CLIC reviews Capital Budget Requests from City departments (think infrastructure investments – roads, bridges, pipes, buildings), hears presentations from the departments, asks questions of the presenters, and then ranks capital requests using a multi-factor scoring system. Final rankings and comments are submitted in an annual report to the Mayor and City Council members. (A remarkable amount of information about the process is available from the City of Minneapolis Finance Department.)

CLIC had its first full meeting of the year on April 12. After some administrative tasks, we heard presentations from the City’s new Chief Information Officer, Otto Doll, and the Director of Public Works, Steve Kotke.

Mr. Doll’s qualifications and presentation style are impressive. It may be that Minneapolis has finally found a person who can effectively use all the tools in the City’s IT toolkit, and is also willing and able to communicate with Council members and other departments.

Mr. Doll stated that he has been directed to establish new metrics to quantify the value of IT in City departments. This is an opportunity to begin evaluating how dollars spent on technology affect the quality of local government functions. He summed up his thoughts on this issue this way:

“Technology is a light switch. Everybody knows where it is and how to turn it on, and almost every time you flip the switch it works. You can spend $100,000 to have really good lighting in a room, but is it necessary, or is the current lighting sufficient? Would natural light be better?”

Steve Kotke , Director of Public Works, began by commenting on the solid partnership between CLIC and Public Works in making recommendations on how to spend limited dollars in capital improvements. “We’ve reached the point when we are no longer making a decision between good and bad projects. They’re all good projects and we have to decide which are the most important.”

Mr. Kotke discussed operational things from this past winter, and noted that one-third of the $1 million for accelerated pothole repair will come from money not spent by other departments in 2010, and the rest will come from the Infrastructure Acceleration Program

CLIC members were pleased to hear that Public Works will be doing an infrastructure study like the one done in 1997. This time it will focus only on transportation – roadways, our bridges, signals and street lighting. As in the last study, it will show what can be expected in future years from different levels of investment in infrastructure. In addition to that, this study will show comparable situations in other cities, and will explore funding mechanisms other than bonds repaid with taxes. It will also look at how to best allocate funds between infrastructure investments to build the tax base and investments in preserving current assets.

The City has been consciously shifting more of its spending from street reconstruction, which costs about $8 million per mile, to mill and overlay, which costs about $500,000 per mile. (There are still big projects, like the Riverside reconstruction this year.) Mill and overlay does not last as long (the average life is about ten years, but it depends on the underlying condition of the street), but it helps the operating budget because we don’t have to go out and fill as many potholes each year.

After talking about roads, Mr. Kotke touched on a couple of important matters related to water and sewer. In presentations, CLIC will see the ten-year master plan to prioritize improvements in the water division using a risk-based asset approach in terms of what needs to be replaced in the City’s treatment plants. And there is good news regarding our storm and sanitary system, in that the City effectively made its case and resolved two outstanding issues with Met Council and the Environmental Protection Agency/Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The next meeting of CLIC will be on Wednesday, April 27. This is one of two days spent hearing departments present their Capital Budget Requests. I look forward to updating Profile readers about what we learn about our City’s infrastructure.

Becca Vargo Daggett is one of two CLIC members representing Ward 2

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