Saturday, March 18, 2017

Deferred Maintenance and Unexpected Capital Projects: Reasons not to Overbuild

Earlier this week the School Board received a recommendation for around $750 million in spending to modernize and make safe our schools.

You know already about the Salem River Crossing currently low-balled at about $500 million.

Here's a "small" problem with a back-of-the-envelope estimate of $5 million (very likely a low-ball estimate also).

Relative to the schools and bridge, it may seem small, like pocket change. But where there is one, there are others! The proverbial "tip of the iceberg"!

This is an important reason why the argument not overspend and overbuild an oversized Police Station has merit.

The proposed bridge will cost at least ten Courthouse Squares
It is also an important reason why we should seek less expensive solutions for cross-river mobility and safety instead of the ginormous Salem River Crossing.

Around $750 million in need - 15 Courthouse Squares!
Why we will want to save resources so we can give our children the school facilities they deserve.

Our Deferred Maintenance problem
You might recall from the March 6th Council work session materials that we have a problem with deferred maintenance:
Finding 12. The City has deferred maintenance on critical infrastructure

As with many local governments across the country, the City of Salem has a significant infrastructure problem. Infrastructure refers to the tools, equipment, buildings, land, and machinery that City employees use to produce services and products for residents. To hold the budget line during the recession, the City focused on the provision of direct services and reduced its infrastructure repairs and maintenance. “Catching up” on the backlog of infrastructure repair and maintenance is a difficult task for which the City has not allocated sufficient resources....

A cursory analysis, which should be revisited and fleshed out, indicates that the City could be underinvesting in its infrastructure by as much as 100%+.
If we budget and overbuilt big, expensive, shiny new things, we are much less likely to take care of things we already have or to be able to meet unexpected expenses when things break.

By itself the pattern of periodic landslides on River Road may not be an argument against bigger projects. But as part of an even larger pattern of deferred maintenance and grandiose budgeting out of alignment with more prosaic community values, including basic seismic and roadway measures to prevent needless death and save lives, it says much and points to a need to rethink things.


Eric T. MacKnight said...

Exactly right!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Invest first in existing infrastructure is what I hear everywhere I go. I do not understand why the City Council is not hearing that message.

Deferring maintenance has been an issue for many many years, but that is no excuse for not fixing that pattern. It is a sign of poor fiscal management. I hope the Council will direct the City Manager to come up with a systematic strategy for addressing this issue when they are doing their Strategic Plan!