A community with a plan is able to act instead of constantly react.
Public funding for projects is getting tough. This is nothing new to any community leader with a list of projects to improve their community and deliver expected services. Grant funds for water/wastewater are becoming more competitive, IDOT’s Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program is restricting or not funding streetscape projects, and motor fuel taxes are declining with reduced fuel consumption in a winter that’s crumbling our roads like a stale piece of bread. So what does a community do?
There is no short-term solution to the funding issue. Funds will continue to shrink for the foreseeable future, even as sales tax revenues are down in many communities. While it may sound like a sad, old song, planning is the key to communities reaching their goals and keeping services functional and available for its citizens.
You may have heard the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Public and municipal infrastructure projects are often large and overwhelming, but can be maintained and updated in planned stages.
Does your community have an up-to-date comprehensive plan? This road map to the future includes a street plan mapping out the next 10 years of street replacement or resurfacing based on a projected income-versus-cost budget, as well as a scheduled maintenance plan for water and wastewater infrastructure to systematically replace or maintain older components. Is there a water/wastewater user rate evaluation plan in place? An updated plan should also include planning for educational systems, public safety, parks and recreation, and healthcare, in addition to economic development considerations.
A community with a plan is able to act instead of constantly react, and finances can be better budgeted and utilized. Plans should address three basic questions:
- What do you have?
- What do you want?
- How will you get there?
An effective plan is a continuous process that changes and adapts to new conditions and situations over time. It should be a living, breathing document that is regularly reviewed and updated. A plan requires six criteria to be effective:
- It should be based on a vision—the process where citizens consider how they want the community to look and function in the future.
- It should be created with meaningful citizen involvement. The citizens must know how the plan affects them and have input to address concerns in their neighborhoods and community.
- The plan should be consistent. All parts of the plan should work toward the same vision like puzzle pieces that complete an entire picture.
- Plans should be realistic. It isn’t bad to dream big, but available resources must be considered in fulfilling the dream.
- The plan should be financially feasible. There should be enough resources available to make sure the vision can not only be built, but sustained.
- A plan should be appropriate for the community based on the community’s objectives, policies and strategies.
In addition, communities with a plan are better prepared when grant or other funding opportunities arise, and not left scrambling to react to opportunities that often have very short timeframes in which to apply. It is impossible to plan for every contingency that could occur, but planning ahead can certainly help a community have more control over its own situation, as well as obtaining the vision it has for itself, and the security of future citizens. iBi
Brian Bergen is a senior project planner with Farnsworth Group, Inc.