Important discussion tonight at the Council

Capital planning should not follow the Field of Dreams model

Tonight at the Council worksession, they’ll be discussing the Capital Improvement Plan.  I believe the CIP is the single most important tool the City has…and Northfield’s, while greatly improved over the last few years, is still not what it could be.  The goal is to plan for and schedule projects to ensure the city is not spending money on things which cost more to maintain than they return on the investment and that the city can identify the revenue to cover the initial costs and the upkeep.

The City, as part of the CIP review, should:

Inventory what we already have, then develop ways to present this to the Council and public which are clear, not misleading and continually updated (surely someone can come up with great data visualizations for municipal planning and spending).  Northfield’s Councilmembers should have flashcards so they could answer (in round, ballpark numbers):

  • How much do we have (e.g. square feet of street, lineal feet of sewer, number of buildings, etc.)?
  • What are the (annual, 10-year, etc.) maintenance costs?
  • When do those costs come due (how old are those buildings, streets, etc.)?
  • What is the revenue stream to cover those costs (general fund, utility fees, etc.)?

Prioritize projects because there will not be enough money to do everything.  Here’s where the Council should be reviewing the long-range plans (like the Comprehensive Plan and its progeny) to remind themselves of priorities which have already been established, updating those plans by gathering citizen input and making the tough choices about what to allocate money to do including both immediate needs and longer term goals for improvement. Policies and plans can help put individual spending choices in a larger context and (one hopes) avoid duplication and increase strategic spending.

The process needs to be part education (Council needs to answer the questions above then convey the picture to the public) and part strategic planning and spending.  Not easy.  Good luck tonight, Council.

The Moneyball approach would be much better