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Yesterday, San Diego’s City Council officially created a new committee to fix its backlog of broken streets, storm drains and buildings.

New Councilman Mark Kersey, who represents the city’s northeastern neighborhoods and will head the committee, said creating a multi-year repair budget will be one of his top issues. This is a good thing. Long-range planning will help the city figure out how to prioritize its fixes.

But according to Michael Pagano, dean of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s urban planning college, that reform won’t be enough to ensure the city budgets the full cost of maintaining its infrastructure. The problem stems, Pagano writes in the Atlantic Cities, from governments separating their day-to-day budget from the pot of money that pays for infrastructure improvement:

Cities should manage public infrastructure the way one manages a large personal asset — by setting aside in a monthly budget a reasonable sum of money for basic repairs, maintenance, replacement, a new paint job.

Right now, cities (and other local governments and all state governments) separate their annual (or biennial) budgeting processes into two piles: one for the basic operations of the city; the other for the capital investment activities of the city, which cannot be used for basic maintenance and repair.

By separating the two budgetary processes, there is never enough funds for basic repairs, maintenance, replacement, a new paint job for the new or expanded capital asset that appears in the capital budget because the operating budget is already crowded with too many commitments from previous years’ basic repairs, maintenance, replacement activities, not to mention all the other service responsibilities, such as public safety.

Pagano suggests cities should follow Utah’s lead. By law, the state sets aside money to maintain and repair buildings when they’re constructed. Maintenance costs, then, are included in the building’s price tag.

As we’ve noted: Lack of money isn’t the only hurdle blocking the city from fixing its infrastructure woes. Without more effective planning and bureaucratic reforms, lots of cash won’t fix roads, buildings and other infrastructure in the short or long term.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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