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CLIENT: BERRYMAN & HENIGAR
March 2004: Public Works
Cities nationwide are facing leaner budgets. In California, the $38 billion state budget shortfall has municipalities scrambling to figure out how to keep existing programs in place without cutting services and staff. Washington state too is running a budget deficit. But many cities have taken proactive measures to ensure that they receive the requisite funding so key infrastructure projects and basic community services remain intact.
In today's climate of limited funding resources and highly competitive programs, consultants can help public agencies to better develop, define, and represent projects to potential funding partners. Here are a few examples of how a number of cities in Washington and California obtained the funding they needed in order to move forward with important infrastructure projects. In each instance, Berryman & Henigar staff worked closely with city officials to first determine the specific project and funding needs, then handled all necessary tasks with various state and federal agencies to obtain the funds.
CITY OF BAINBRIDGE ISLAND
Bainbridge Island, population 21,000, is a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. Adverse soil conditions in several south island area neighborhoods have led to septic system failures, a problem made worse by the small lots and proximity to Puget Sound.
According to Bainbridge Island Public Works Director, Randy Witt, after several years of working to find a solution for its south island wastewater needs, an outside consultant was hired to assist with continued project development and implementation. The consultant proposed the formation of a single Local Improvement District (LID) to provide a financial mechanism for the area to receive municipal sewer service to the area.
The utilization of a loan through the Public Works Trust Fund (PWTF), a highly competitive Washington State program that offers low-interest loans to local governments for critical public works needs, was recommended. The loan would reduce annual property owner payments by approximately one-half over traditional municipal bond financing, making the project more affordable and acceptable to the property owners.
The consultant prepared and submitted a $5.6 million PWTF loan application for the project. The project was recommended for funding and is awaiting final approval from the State Legislature in Spring 2004. "The consultant's knowledge and prior experience with LIDs, and PWTF loan program proved invaluable in successfully pursuing the desired funding needed for the project," Witt said. "With their assistance, formation of the LID is anticipated and implementation of the project is expected in 2004."
CITY OF SULTAN
The City of Sultan, population 3,910, is located 45 miles northeast of Seattle. Donna Murphy, the City's Economic Development Director, said the City has worked with an outside consultant to pursue funding for critical infrastructure projects since 1999. "Although I serve as Grants Coordinator, I do not have the technical expertise necessary to effectively represent our infrastructure projects. We rely on an outside consultant to help us with the development and definition of the technical aspects of our infrastructure projects."
"One particular project comes to mind," Donna said. "The City needed to improve the safety of a roadway intersecting a state highway because of existing hazards and a high number of accidents, some including fatalities. The state highway, under WSDOT jurisdiction, serves as the primary east west arterial through the city. Due to limited available WSDOT funding, the City was left to identify and secure other funding sources."
A city the size of Sultan has limited available local funds. State and federal transportation infrastructure resources available to local municipalities are also very limited, thereby very competitive. Thus, securing the funding required for this critical $5 million project was questionable. The consultant worked with the City to develop a strategy consisting of a three-phased project approach that allowed the City to effectively and successfully pursue multiple funding partners. Since 1997, the City has secured approximately $2 million for the project. More than 85 percent of that funding was secured in the last three years with the consultant's assistance, including four separate federal and state grants, and a $700,000 PWTF low-interest loan.
"We have found the assistance from an outside consultant to be critically important in our efforts and ability to better develop, define and represent our projects to potential funding partners in today's climate of limited funding resources and highly competitive programs," Murphy said.
CITY OF LAGUNA HILLS
The City of Laguna Hills has a population of 34,000 and is situated in Orange County, about 40 miles southwest of Los Angeles. According to Ken Rosenfield, Public Services Director/City Engineer, the City has secured more than $1 million through the Orange County Transportation Authority for a variety of street widening and rehabilitation projects the past three years. Rosenfeld said the funding wouldn't have been obtained without the help of an outside consultant.
"Most cities just don't have the staff or time to effectively network with state and federal agencies as they are dealing with the issues of the day, and working with a consultant often allows one to bridge that gap," he said.
Rosenfeld added that cities need to be proactive and recommended they do some "upfront" project development work to show what the benefits will be before an outside design consultant is retained. Funding authorities want to see the project funds spent quickly, so a project's "state of readiness" is extremely important to its funding approval. Pre-engineering work should be done early on so cities have the data to later successfully compete for grant money. Moving the design-engineering work up a year or two ahead of schedule also helps so a City can remain competitive.
"We don't have the staff to put together funding applications," he said. "So an outside consultant can also help us with any follow through of additional services such as preliminary engineering that may have to be done in order to obtain accurate cost estimates."
CITY OF LAWNDALE
Blane Frandsen serves as Public Works Director for the City of Lawndale, population 30,000. Located about 25 miles southwest of Los Angeles, the City is limited in both staffing and resources, making it difficult to pursue major grant opportunities needed to fund various projects - in fact, Frandsen is the sole engineer at the City, acting as both City Engineer and Director for their Public Works Department.
The City needed about $550,000 to complete the funding resources needed for a major streetscape project along Manhattan Beach Boulevard. The street serves as a significant arterial gateway to the South Bay area of Los Angeles County. The funds were used for parkway and median landscaping that added to the City's identity. Presentations were made on the City's behalf to a technical advisory committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to secure the timing of the funding to make certain it matched the City's schedule.
"It was a real advantage to us to be able to work with a consultant that could effectively represent our requirements to a large regulatory agency such as the MTA," Frandsen said.
Cities seeking to obtain funding for their various infrastructure projects will continue to face an uphill battle for the foreseeable future. So whether it's a federal, state, local or private partnership with government agencies, the key to getting funding is to have a viable project that is competitive and will fit in with adopted local/regional plans and goals and provide measurable benefits. Look for consultants to assist you in project development and securing funding that have recently done work on similar programs, been successful, and knows the current rules and regulations as they change frequently.
The bottom line, however, is that while hiring an outside consultant is not an automatic funding slam-dunk for any jurisdiction, the consultant can often provide the technical resources to best define the project and its elements, usually has more experience in working directly with the appropriate regional, state and federal agencies, and can help shepherd the entire process from start to successful completion.
Return to: 2004 Feature Stories