Municipal revenues are up, but unfortunately maintenance schedules still lag behind
Author: Aden Hogan and Sam Mamet - January 25, 2013 - Updated: January 25, 2013
It’s taken four years for the municipal revenue picture to turn around but 2012 ended with encouraging results — 47 percent of respondents to an annual Colorado Municipal League survey report increased revenue in 2012 over the previous year. Back in 2009, 46 percent reported a decline in revenue from the previous year. This encouraging news is contained in the 2013 CML State of our Cities and Towns Report — CML’s annual municipal health check-up. Revenue increases vary throughout the state. Among the large Front Range cities, 83 percent report increased revenue; 54 percent of western slope cities and towns record an increase. The eastern plains communities remain mostly flat in revenues with only 18 percent reporting increases in 2012.
There is a cloud that hangs over this silver lining. The recession has resulted in five years of deferred maintenance and replacement for everything from police cars to street repair. While revenues are up, they haven’t returned to the point where normal maintenance schedules can resume in many cities and towns. Municipalities will be looking for ways to catch-up on this backlog for years to come. The statistics are concerning: 59 percent of cities and towns report a backlog of unfunded street projects; 24 percent bridge projects; 35 percent have unfunded public building improvements; and 33 percent have drinking water or sewer projects that are unfunded. The price tag for needed water and wastewater infrastructure in Colorado has increased from $4.5 billion in 2011 to $7.5 billion in 2013 — much of which is driven by increased state and federal water standards. These unfunded mandates will take not only local resources, but assistance from the state and federal governments to meet these basic service needs.
Colorado’s economy is gaining strength and a lot of credit has been earned by our cities and towns. This is the level of government most involved in economic development — and municipalities have increased efforts to improve their local economies during the recession. 88 percent of all municipalities in the state participate in at least one economic development program. Tourism promotion has traditionally been the leading effort, but the 2013 Report places special events as the program supported by more municipalities than any other. The boom in special events has offered the public a wide variety of fun and educational things to do throughout the year — while boosting the local economy. Car shows, beer festivals, ice carving, wood carving, art festivals and bicycle racing are among the many events you can sample in Colorado. The inaugural Pedal the Plains bicycle race drew a thousand cyclists to eastern Colorado last fall on a course winding through Burlington, Yuma, Wray and towns in between.
Another interesting addition to economic development efforts is an appreciation for the role played by “the arts.” The economic impact of what’s being termed “creative industries” is being recognized as a growing business cluster with much potential growth ahead of it. Tax incentives, small business support programs and buy-local campaigns are among the other economic development activities. Redevelopment of declining commercial areas remains a priority and through the use of urban renewal many cities have been able to restore the economic health of areas that the private sector can’t accomplish on its own.
Through the recession Colorado’s municipalities have crafted more efficient services, expanded public/private cooperation, and invested in economic development activities. The results have been a positive boost to the economic health of our communities. We’re proud to report that cities and towns are creating a better tomorrow for Colorado.
Aden Hogan is the Evans city manager and president of the Colorado Municipal League. Sam Mamet is the executive director of CML.