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How High-Growth Communities Can Streamline Capital Improvement Planning

How To Streamline CIP for High-Growth Communities

Managing infrastructure and keeping up with growth are major issues that high-growth communities face daily. The increase in citizens leads to a strain on existing infrastructure. The upside is that more residents mean more money to fund projects like road expansions and high-speed internet. So the question is… How do you spend it?  

This is why agencies have moved towards developing multi-year Capital Improvement Plans that exist separately from their Operational Budget.

A capital improvement plan is a short-range plan, usually 1-10 years, that outlines capital projects and equipment purchases, provides a planning schedule, and identifies options for financing the plan. Often, the planning involves strategic priority ranking, back and forth with department heads, and eventually incorporation into the annual budget.

High-growth local governments need a way to streamline creating and communicating their multi-year CIP and capital budget.

The Challenge With More Capital Funds

Growth is inevitable. And most local governments would argue that growth is a good thing. It generates more revenue, creates jobs, raises property values, and gives residents more diverse offerings for everything from schools to shopping.

But managing infrastructure to keep up with high growth – rapid growth over short periods – can be challenging.

Public sector employees are faced with a more demanding workload. Engineers and planning officials must determine the infrastructure needed to support growth, and finance teams must manage and allocate the extra funds toward the agency’s long-term CIP and the current annual capital budget.

This can put a strain on an already demanding and time-constrained budget process. Most local governments have a rigorous process for scoring, analyzing, and prioritizing capital requests from department heads. But finance employees are still tied to the same timelines and due dates — just with more work to manage.

Why High-Growth Communities May Struggle With Creating & Communicating Their CIP

Even with an influx of funds and citizens demanding bigger roads, government officials must still be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Transparency in high-growth communities is arguably even more important with the rapid development and a constant influx of new citizens and businesses to answer to.

Having a process to communicate how capital projects are prioritized, along with a detailed breakdown of how the project will be funded and when it will be completed goes a long way toward establishing that transparency.

But the reality is that it’s a struggle to keep up. Why?

  • Many communities work with legacy systems like Excel, Word, and Adobe to manually collect, create, and communicate their budget and CIP. These manual systems and processes are time-consuming and error-prone.
  • Old and new capital projects must be integrated. In addition to considering new infrastructure and capital projects, your local government must go back to previous years and consider projects slated as multi-year or denied because the funds weren’t available. Should previous projects be fast-tracked, or should they be reworked to accommodate more growth than expected? Projects previously approved as ‘nice to have’ might have to be tabled for more pressing infrastructure needs.
  • There are high expectations for transparency. Government officials and the finance team are expected to share the capital plan and budget with council members and the community. They need a practical format that is easy to understand for everyone, and they need to be able to share changes and updates promptly. This isn’t easy if the CIP and capital budget are manually created in Word or Excel.
  • Many communities create a “CIP Book” as well as their “Budget Book.” This is double the work during an already crunched budget season. And while it may technically check the box on communication and transparency, the amount of information is often overwhelming to the average citizen who wants to see the big picture at a glance and quickly find details on the projects that interest them.
  • Local Governments want to share how the CIP is linked to their strategic goals and plan. As they should! This is a fantastic way to compare and score proposed projects against their community goals fairly. And it helps residents understand how capital projects are prioritized. Being transparent and sharing this information keeps government officials accountable for why and how they’re spending taxpayer dollars. But again, managing the scoring process and accurately painting this picture in a PDF or spreadsheet can be challenging.

The Solution Is Clear

There are two components to the capital process:

  1. The capital budget is a portion of the overall operating budget (similar to the personnel budget)
  2. The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is a separate section included in the budget book

The CIP is the multi-year roadmap that shows where we’re going and how we will get there. The capital budget shows the final approved allocated funds for specific projects in the current fiscal year.

Many local governments build these components separately — and manually.

ClearGov’s cloud-based capital budgeting solutions streamline and automate the capital process using these two tools:

ClearGov Capital Budgeting allows governments to easily build their capital improvement plans and the annual capital budget in one easy-to-use, collaborative, cloud-based platform.

ClearGov Digital Budget Book automatically creates a dynamic and engaging web-based budget book where public sector agencies can publish their CIP so that it’s visible to council and residents — all in one place.

Here’s an example of how Beaufort County, South Carolina incorporates their CIP into their Digital Budget Book.

Leveraging these two ClearGov solutions together enables:

  • Improved real-time collaboration with department heads. The Request Manager feature keeps all communication in one place to eliminate back-and-forth or lost emails and unnecessary phone calls.
  • Impartial scoring tied to your strategic goals. Department heads can score requests based on a variety of criteria you set, such as health, environmental, or operational impact. Sharing this process helps your community understand how requests are prioritized.
  • Centralized data and automatic audit trail. All supporting documentation is attached to requests, and all updates and changes are recorded with a clear audit trail. You will always know you’re looking at the latest information (unlike emails, Word documents, or spreadsheets).
  • Data that is never outdated. Your digital budget book is automatically updated if changes are made to your budget data. No more making tedious manual changes in multiple places.
  • Templates that automate project request pages. Request data instantly populates detailed capital request pages with auto-generated graphs. Capital request images, funding sources, project details, attachments, and more are perfectly formatted for easy viewing.
  • Multi-year, multi-scenario plans. ClearGov lets you generate as many scenarios as you’d like to optimize capital funds over a multi-year timeframe. This is especially helpful for high-growth cities with unpredictable revenue and fund sources.
  • Happy council members and citizens. Digital Budget Book offers an intuitive, interactive, and fluid interface that is easy to navigate and understand. Automatically generated graphics and charts make complex financial data easy to understand, and users can even toggle between chart types to make the data make the most sense to them.

Hear How ClearGov’s Capital Solutions Helped One High-Growth City

Jene Jess, Finance and Employee Services Director, City of Bondurant, Iowa shared her experience using ClearGov’s Capital Budgeting and Digital Budget Book products:

“We’re a small department. When I first came on five years ago, it was just me, and I do both the finance and the HR. Now I have a budget analyst that is involved. But five years later, I think we are the second fastest-growing community in Iowa. And so I potentially could have added another staff member with the amount of work that’s grown just in projects and capital planning and all of that. With [ClearGov Capital Budgeting], I really didn’t have to.

I love the projects page in the Capital Budgeting module. That has made a huge, huge leap forward for us because you get people in your community that say, ‘I don’t want XYZ. Explain to me why I have to pay for this. Why is it taking so long?’ Whatever the question may be. This page takes all of that away and it’s a really beautiful display of, ‘This is where your tax dollars are going; this is how we plan to spend it.’”

Ready To Streamline Your Capital Budget & CIP?

Your capital process is so much simpler with ClearGov!

Capital Budgeting makes it easier and more efficient to receive and submit requests, score and rank requests, and build capital budgets.

Digital Budget Book is used to produce the final presentation of the capital improvement plan within your annual budget – you no longer need to make separate documents!

Watch a quick demo of Capital Budgeting and Digital Budget Book to see if these tools can help your high-growth community soar to new heights.

January 25, 2023

Matt Benati

Matt Benati is Vice President of Marketing for ClearGov®, the leading provider of Budget Cycle Management software for local governments. Matt is passionate about helping organizations modernize their annual budgeting process by automating workflow, increasing collaboration, and improving transparency between governments and citizens.