Cities find strategies for better funding
In the increasingly difficult search for funds, city and county officials are trying new strategies, including tapping into “green” funding and taking extra steps to educate state and federal officials about their needs. Some departments are using technology to lower their legal exposure and reduce labor.
In February 2008, Phoenix officials were searching for ways to fund the construction of a new “green” parking lot for the city’s Southwest Family Services Center, set to break ground in May 2009. “The city is in dire need of money right now,” says Max Enterline, a planner with Phoenix’s Planning Research Team. With sales tax revenues down, the city has had to cut $90 million from the budget, including 445 jobs, according to Lynn Timmons, the city’s federal relations and grants liaison.
Enterline applied for a $250,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Water Quality, which was part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act programs. The grant could cover 60 percent of the costs of the new parking lot, which will be constructed with pervious concrete that allows oil and hydraulic fluids to slowly seep into the ground, and will process leaked vehicle fluids slowly over time. Phoenix will cover the remaining cost with bond money.
More “green” funds soon will become available through the $2 billion Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, which Congress passed this session and now awaits appropriation. Also, the $307 billion Food, Conservation and Energy Security Act of 2008 includes new grants, including the $5 million Biodiesel Education Program that will be available to fleet managers.
Some small communities have to take extra steps to make their needs known to the people holding the purse strings. In 2004, Johnson County, Wyo., Road and Bridge Department resource utilization specialist Cheryl Benner set up a “road show” for legislators and representatives from the governor’s office, the state treasurer and other officials to see county roads that needed repair. “We pounded home the numbers. For example, one loaded gravel truck trip is like 96 passenger car trips,” Benner says. “We got six of the seven state officials on the roads, and our grant application to the State Lands and Investment Board was the first successful application for a road project in many, many years.”
Sometimes new funds are not needed when a city can better preserve its existing reserves. In Snowmass Village, Colo., Road Supervisor John Baker found he could avoid costly lawsuits if he carefully logged all aspects of the department’s work.
Two years ago, a storm unleashed torrential rains. Two residents filed suit against the town, saying the Roads Department did not maintain culverts and ditches, and the residents’ homes flooded as a result. Baker was able to check his asset management system, which showed when the work had been completed. The suit was subsequently dropped.
The city bought the asset management system in 2000 for $4,000. Baker says he cannot say how much the city could have lost in potential lawsuits, but the two homes’ damage was estimated at $60,000.
In Phoenix, Timmons sees continued severe funding shortages and job cuts this year. “Public funding is on a downslide,” she says. Despite that, she maintains that through public and private sources, money is available. “I would teach people you can’t spend all your time chasing dollars, but creativity opens doors.”
— Greg Mebel is an Aspen, Colo.-based freelance writer.