Posts

Regional Stormwater Plan to Save Taxpayers Money in Luzerne County

This article is an excerpt from the December 2017 issue of The Authority, a magazine produced by the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association (PMAA). It is the second in a series of 3 articles about an innovative approach to stormwater management and MS4 compliance being pioneered by 31 municipalities and the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority.  You can read the first article here: How Municipalities in the Wyoming Valley Are Cutting Stormwater Costs by Up to 90% )

 

Lower costs and increase value

Thirty-one municipalities in Luzerne County are piloting a regional approach to MS4 compliance that may revolutionize the way Pennsylvania responds to the growing challenges posed by stormwater.

They have signed cooperative agreements with the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, which will serve as MS4 permit coordinator for the entire region. In our previous post, we discussed the many ways a regional partnership can lower the cost of stormwater management for municipalities.

In this post, we’ll discuss how:

Cooperation benefits the taxpayer.

If regional cooperation lowers the cost of stormwater management, it stands to reason those cost savings will be passed on to the taxpayer. But, make no mistake, replacing aging infrastructure and constructing Best Management Practices will cost money, and that money will have to come from somewhere.

With municipal budgets already stretched to the limit, communities may have to consider new revenue sources. That could mean a tax increase or a stormwater fee.

Stormwater fees are generally a better deal for the average constituent. This is because a fee structure ensures everyone pays their fair share.

If taxes were raised to cover the cost of stormwater management, many property owners with large amounts of impervious area would be exempt: hospitals, schools, and other non-profit institutions. However, these institutions can sometimes be the biggest contributors to a community’s stormwater issues because stormwater runoff occurs when the water runs along impervious surfaces and cannot infiltrate the ground.

If stormwater management is paid for through a property tax increase, these non-profit organizations won’t pay for the services they’re using, but someone will have to, and that burden will fall on homeowners and small businesses.

Studies show time and again that the average homeowner would pay less for stormwater management if he or she were charged a stormwater fee than if the municipality raised property taxes.

The regional cooperation being pioneered by the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority is an especially good deal for local taxpayers: Our analysis showed that the average residential property owner will save 70 – 93% by paying a regional stormwater fee instead of paying an increased property tax.

The Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority’s estimated stormwater fee is between $3.00 and $4.50 per month. This is lower than the other stormwater fees currently being paid throughout Pennsylvania, which average between $6.50 and $8.50 per month.

By using a regional approach, WVSA is able to lower costs beyond what an individual municipal authority could likely achieve. These numbers are even more impressive when you consider that the fees for most of the other municipal authorities included in the average above were calculated before taking 2018 MS4 permit requirements into account. Therefore, those communities may actually have to raise fees higher to meet the stricter requirements coming in the next permit cycle.  WVSA’s estimated cost already accounts for the 2018 permit requirements.

Municipal leaders are stewards of the public’s money, but they are also stewards of the environment. In our next post, we’ll discuss how regional cooperation on stormwater management can more effectively keep our rivers and streams clean for drinking, agriculture, and recreation.


Do you want to learn more about how stormwater fees provide the best value for taxpayers? Download our guide:

Determining If a Stormwater Utility Is Right for Your Community

Stormwater Utility GuideIt includes
• Answers to common questions about stormwater utilities
• More advice for how to build public consensus for stormwater fees
• An outline of the early steps you should take when investigating the feasibility of a stormwater utility

Download the guide

 


 

Jim Tomaine has more than 30 years of engineering experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Wilkes University. He is the executive director of the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority and has been at WVSA for twenty seven years.  Prior to the WVSA, Mr. Tomaine worked in the private sector as a design engineer. He currently holds his A-1 Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators Certification in Pennsylvania and is also a registered professional engineer.

 

Adrienne Vicari is the financial services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG). In this role, she has helped the firm provide strategic financial planning and grant administration services to numerous municipal and municipal authority clients. She is also serving as project manager for several projects involving the creation of stormwater authorities or the addition of stormwater to the charter of existing authorities throughout Pennsylvania.

 

How Municipalities in the Wyoming Valley are Cutting Stormwater Management Costs by up to 90%

This article is an excerpt from the December 2017 issue of The Authority, a magazine produced the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association (PMAA). Contact us if you’d like a copy of the entire article.

Justify your rates with asset management

Thirty-one municipalities in Luzerne County are piloting a regional approach to MS4 compliance that may revolutionize the way Pennsylvania responds to the growing challenges posed by stormwater.

They have signed cooperative agreements with the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, which will serve as MS4 permit coordinator for the entire region. The following are just a few of the ways that partnership will save them money over the next 20 years:

 

 

Less paperwork.

Because the municipalities are submitting their permit requirements as part of a regional approach, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is allowing them to submit just one Cheasapeake Bay Pollution Reduction Plan (PRP) for the region and a single PRP for each impaired watershed (for a total of seven Pollution Reduction Plans).

If each municipality had chosen to work alone, the region would’ve submitted more than 100 Pollution Reduction Plans to DEP. When the cost of producing one Pollution Reduction Plan can be more than $20,000, the cost to produce more than 100 would simply have been out of reach for this region.

But, by working together, the municipalities reduce the amount of paperwork that must be produced to comply with state requirements.  Fewer plans cost less money, and that lower cost is then divided among the participating municipalities.  At the end of the day, each municipality’s share of the Pollution Reduction Plan preparation cost is just $3,000.

 

Fewer, more efficient construction projects

Submitting the Pollution Reduction Plan is just step 1 of the compliance process. Once the plan is accepted by DEP, municipalities must implement it, and that typically involves the construction of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that reduce the quantity and/or improve the quality of stormwater runoff.

The most expensive part of constructing BMPs is acquiring the land on which to build them. When municipalities work alone, they are limited to constructing their BMPs within their own borders, and most municipalities don’t have an abundance of publicly owned land available for BMP construction. If they partner with other municipalities on a regional approach, they can get credit for constructing BMPs anywhere within the watershed.  With that flexibility, communities can install projects that yield the greatest pollutant load reduction for the lowest cost.  This often means they can meet their goals with fewer construction projects.

According to our analysis, municipalities in the Wyoming Valley would’ve had to construct approximately 200 projects to meet the pollution reduction goals individually (at a cost of $69 million). As a group, the municipalities will only need to construct 65 projects to meet those goals (at a cost of just $12 million).  This will save the municipalities more than $50 million on the cost of implementing their Pollution Reduction Plans.

 

Lower O&M costs through economies of scale

There are a lot of fixed costs in managing stormwater.  When you spread those costs over a larger number of users, the cost to each user gets smaller.  A feasibility study conducted by WVSA’s engineer determined that, as a group, cooperating municipalities would save $274 million on operations, maintenance, and improvements over the next 20 years by working together on a regional approach to stormwater management.

 

Increased purchasing and borrowing power

Generally, you can negotiate lower unit costs for items when you buy them in larger quantities, so, for example, pipelines could be replaced or slip lined for a lower cost if the work was completed as part of a larger, regional project.

 

Increased access to government grants and loans

Funding agencies tend to favor entities that are cooperating regionally to streamline costs, and politicians tend to support projects benefitting a larger constituent base.  Therefore, funding applications submitted by a regional cooperative are more likely to be awarded a grant or loan than those submitted by individual municipalities. These funding awards can save a community significant sums of money versus funding a project out of its own revenues.

 

When municipalities save money like this, it stands to reason they can pass those savings on to residents and business owners. In a follow-up post next week, we’ll discuss how the regional partnership model being pioneered in the Wyoming Valley is benefitting taxpayers in the region.


Jim Tomaine has more than 30 years of engineering experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Wilkes University. He is the executive director of the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority and has been at WVSA for twenty seven years.  Prior to the WVSA, Mr. Tomaine worked in the private sector as a design engineer. He currently holds his A-1 Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators Certification in Pennsylvania and is also a registered professional engineer.

Adrienne Vicari is the financial services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG). In this role, she has helped the firm provide strategic financial planning and grant administration services to numerous municipal and municipal authority clients. She is also serving as project manager for several projects involving the creation of stormwater authorities or the addition of stormwater to the charter of existing authorities throughout Pennsylvania.

Park Boulevard Realignment and Fort Hunter Park Enhancements Honored as Premier Projects by Dauphin County

Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG) is pleased to announce that two of our projects have been selected by Dauphin County in its annual Premier Projects award program.

Since its inception six years ago, the Dauphin County Premier Projects program has honored more than two dozen projects that promote smart growth and spark revitalization throughout the region. Among this year’s honorees, HRG provided engineering services for two of them: enhancements to Fort Hunter Park and realignment of Park Boulevard.

Park Boulevard

A broad range of local leaders from Derry Township, Dauphin County, and area businesses worked together on the realignment of Park Boulevard to support future economic development in Hershey.  The new roadway provides several safety improvements:

  • It replaces a 60-year old bridge over Spring Creek, which was structurally deficient and weight-restricted.
  • It converts a narrow roadway beneath the Norfolk-Southern underpass from two-way traffic to one-way traffic. This reduces the potential for vehicular accidents and allows for the installation of a sidewalk that is segregated from through traffic.
  • It improves emergency response time by adding a roadway connection from northbound Park Boulevard.  (Previously, first responders had to drive a circuitous route through several intersections to access this area. Now crews can reach the area 2-3 minutes faster.)
  • It provides a new shared-use sidewalk that will enhance safety for pedestrians traveling to Hershey’s attractions from downtown.
  • It adds a safe zone for people boarding and exiting buses at the Hershey Intermodal Transportation Center. This zone is physically protected from through-traffic.

Park Boulevard realignment wins Premier Project award

Front Row: Chuck Emerick, Matt Weir, John Foley, Susan Cort, Justin Engle
Back Row: Chris Brown, Patrick O’Rourke, John Payne, Brian Emberg, Tom Mehaffie, III, Matt Lena, Lauren Zumbrun

Fort Hunter Park

Fort Hunter Park seamlessly blends new amenities with environmental protection and a celebration of the area’s history and wildlife. The enhanced park includes two new boat launches that provide access to Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna River, new pedestrian paths, new seating to enjoy the scenic views, and new outdoor gathering spaces to accommodate park festivals.  It also includes expanded parking to make it easier for locals to access and enjoy these new park features.

To protect the scenic and tranquil environmental setting, engineers used innovative techniques to collect and treat stormwater like porous pavement. They also replaced two paved median areas with soil, stone and native plantings to retain and filter stormwater runoff while enhancing the appearance of the roadway. A new basin for collecting stormwater is designed to blend with the adjoining woodland edge, and herbaceous plantings and indigenous trees help to improve a local habitat area.

Signage in the enhanced habitat area describes local wildlife for park users, while other signs in the park inform visitors of past river activities such as Native American gatherings, early transportation, and coal reclamation.

Fort Hunter Park wins Premier Project award

Chad Gladfelter, Carl Dickson, John Hershey, Matt Bonanno, Steve Deck

ABOUT HRG

Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG) is a nationally ranked design firm providing civil engineering, surveying, and environmental services. The firm was founded in Harrisburg in 1962 and has grown to employ more than 200 people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.  For more information, please visit the website at www.hrg-inc.com.

 

MS4 Audit: Resolve to be organized and ready in 2018

Happy New Year!

Most people use this time of year to get organized, so that they can put their best foot forward over the next 12 months. Ads for your local hardware store are jam-packed with sales on storage bins and closet organizers.

But the need to be organized extends beyond the home into the office, too. With MS4 permit requirements on the rise, many municipalities have seen their program grow in complexity over the past 5-10 years. With that added complexity comes a lot of paperwork: mapping, inspection and maintenance reports, etc.

PA DEP and the EPA both conduct periodic audits of MS4 programs, and the first step of the audit is to review the municipality’s records. So it’s a good idea to make sure your files are complete and well-organized now – in case 2018 is the year an auditor knocks on your door.

Most audits occur at random.

DEP uses the audit process as a way of educating local municipalities about what the MS4 program requires and answering municipalities’ questions about compliance. It is not meant to be an adversarial experience; it’s an opportunity to see whether your program is working and what you can do – if anything – to improve it.  Because it is mostly an educational outreach, fines are rare at this time, but, in the coming years, audits will focus more on program results, and fines will be more likely.  That’s why it’s important to get your MS4 program audit-ready now.

MS4 audit

What documentation do you need to have for an MS4 audit?

DEP provides an Inspection Report, which lists the documentation inspectors typically will ask to see. However, the inspector can ask to see other documentation not specifically listed in the Inspection Report.

Is your stormwater mapping complete and MS4 audit ready?

Is your stormwater mapping complete and MS4 audit ready?

In addition to the actual permit and program document, you should keep all monitoring data and reports for at least one year after the permit expires. You should also keep meeting minutes, inspection schedules and records, as well as documentation of illicit discharges and the methods used to resolve them.

You should have a thorough inventory (with mapping) of the location and function of all your stormwater facilities and any municipal facilities that impact your stormwater program. This includes:

  • All of your outfalls with an outline of their drainage area.
  • Inlets
  • All of your post-construction BMPs (even those that are privately maintained. The MS4 is ultimately responsible for ensuring these facilities are maintained properly, even if private owners have agreed to perform that maintenance. Make sure you have a copy of the maintenance agreement you made with the private owner.)
  • Maintenance and storage yards
  • Composting sites
  • Wastewater treatment facilities
  • Streets and parking lots

Furthermore, you should assemble your policies and completion records for street sweeping and snow removal, lawn care and vehicle fueling and washing.

DEP says that poor or unavailable mapping is one of the main problems encountered in an MS4 audit. Even if you haven’t received notification of an impending audit, it’s a good idea to speak with your engineer about whether your existing mapping is adequate. By the time an audit notification arrives, it will probably be too late to update the mapping then.

 

DEP has gone on record saying that it hopes to audit each MS4 program once during its five-year permit term, so it isn’t a question of “if” you will be audited but “when.”

The list of records an auditor can request is extensive, so it is not the kind of information you can pull together quickly (particularly if your mapping needs updated). You ought to make sure your records are in order now.

In addition, your staff should be knowledgeable of the program and able to answer questions about it effectively. Your engineer can provide training to prepare your staff for MS4 audits, if desired.

With a little advance preparation, you can be sure you’re ready when DEP comes knocking on your door.


Alex GreenlyAlex Greenly is a staff professional in HRG’s civil group. He regularly assists clients with MS4 permit compliance and has additional expertise in erosion and sedimentation control, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, construction observation and municipal review of subdivision, land development, and stormwater management plans.

WEBINAR: Cutting Stormwater Management Costs Through Partnerships

Photo by Aaron Volkening. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Stormwater inlet

Stormwater management costs are on the rise.
MS4 requirements continue to become more stringent.
Aging infrastructure is nearing its useful life and will need replacement.
Can your community afford to address these issues?

 Yes, and this webinar can help.

In it, we provide real-world examples of how municipalities are working together to reduce the cost of regulatory compliance and infrastructure O&M. We also provide guidance on how to successfully negotiate intergovernmental agreements that protect everyone’s interests.

Adrienne M. VicariThe presenter, Adrienne Vicari, is our Financial Services Practice Area Leader. Her regional approach to stormwater management is projected to save municipalities in the Wyoming Valley more than $200 million over the course of 20 years. PA DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell praised the initiative, saying “By working together, these municipalities are reducing pollution less expensively than they could if they were making these efforts separately. I am certain that the rest of the state will be looking at their exemplary leadership.”

The webinar was produced in partnership with the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) and is eligible for 1 secondary credit to PSATS Municipal Government Academy (PMGA) enrollees.

PSATS members can view the webinar for $20. Non-members can view it for $25.

 

HRG to Speak and Exhibit at 2017 PMAA Conference

Join us at the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association conference September 10 – 13, 2017. This year’s event is being held at the Hershey Lodge, and several HRG team members will be speaking:

 

Justin MendinskyErin ThreetJustin Mendinsky and Erin Threet will be discussing the Milton Regional Sewer Authority’s unique approach to meeting Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction goals at its wastewater treatment plant. They’ll also be reviewing the impact of biological nutrient removal (BNR) on nitrogen levels within the Susquehanna River. (Monday September 11)

 

 

 

Tom HolleranTom Holleran will be participating in a panel discussion with representatives from Northern Blair County Regional Sewer Authority; M&T Bank; Link Computer Corporation; and the Fiore, Fedeli, Snyder & Carothers accounting firm. They’ll be discussing the discovery of a felony embezzlement at the Northern Blair County Regional Sewer Authority, specifically describing how the theft was executed.  They’ll also be offering tips authorities can use to protect themselves against embezzlement. (Monday September 11)

 

Adrienne VicariAdrienne Vicari will be talking about the innovative regional stormwater collaboration Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority is forming with more than 30 municipalities in Northeastern PA. This partnership has garnered praise from DEP secretary Patrick McDonnell and is saving local municipalities millions of dollars in stormwater management costs associated with MS4 compliance. She will be joined at this presentation by Jim Tomaine of the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority and William Finnegan of Pugliese, Finnegan, Shaffer & Ferentino, LLC. (Tuesday September 12)

 

Chat with Justin, Erin, Tom, and Adrienne at booth #53 and enter our raffle. Ed Ellinger, Jeff Garrigan, and Kiana Tralongo will also be there.

We look forward to seeing you!

 

Adrienne Vicari Named One of Central PA’s Top 40 Under 40

Adrienne VicariThe Central Penn Business Journal named Adrienne Vicari to its 23nd annual Forty Under 40 list, which honors individuals for their commitment to business growth, professional excellence and the Central Pennsylvania community.  She and the other honorees will receive their award at a banquet on October 2 at the Hilton Harrisburg.

Adrienne is the financial services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. She has more than 15 years of experience in financial consulting, project management and engineering design for municipal wastewater, water and stormwater clients. In her current role with the firm, she uses asset management and capital improvement planning as tools to complete long-range strategic financial planning for her clients.

But she began her career at HRG in a very different role: as a professional engineer designing water and wastewater treatment facilities. She quickly developed an interest in helping her water and wastewater clients obtain and manage their funding for capital improvement projects and transitioned into the firm’s financial service group. As communities have developed a growing need for increased stormwater management funding and utility valuation, she has become an industry leader in these areas, as well.

Russ McIntosh, a vice president of HRG, says:

“Adrienne is an unstoppable force. When she sees something needs done, she dives right in and gives it everything she has. She is extremely knowledgeable of the issues municipal water quality professionals face and very creative in addressing those challenges. There is nothing she can’t or won’t do to help her clients succeed.”

Adrienne Vicari volunteers for STEM educationThis dedication extends outside the office to the Central Pennsylvania community, as well. Adrienne encourages young people to achieve success in science, technology engineering, and math related fields by participating in STEM-related events like the “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” at the Whitaker Center. She also serves as a board member with the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania organization and takes part in their annual STEM expo. In addition, she coaches Central Penn Mini Sticks field hockey and a Cumberland Valley softball 10U team.

She also co-founded a women’s volunteer group for West Shore mothers that encourages them to pursue diverse volunteer opportunities with their children. The group has had a significant impact on mid-state organizations such as Caitlin Smiles, Leg Up Farm, Ronald McDonald House, Dress for Success, and others.

 

ABOUT HRG

Originally founded in 1962, HRG has grown to be a nationally ranked Top 500 Design Firm, providing civil engineering, surveying and environmental services to public and private sector clients. The 200-person employee-owned firm currently has office locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. For more information, please visit the website at www.hrg-inc.com.

 

Flood Control Article Advice from Erin Letavic in Borough News

Erin Letavic, a project manager in HRG’s civil group, published an article in the July issue of Borough News magazine about flood control entitled “Mitigating Flood Risk in Your Borough.”  In it, she discusses the costs municipalities face when flooding occurs and offers  tips for how to minimize the risk of flood damage as much as possible.

Topics she discusses in the article include

  • Understanding your community’s flood risk
  • Improving floodplain management in your community
  • Expanding vegetation that absorbs flood waters and filters pollutants
  • Promoting the construction of green infrastructure
  • Obtaining funding for flood mitigation measures
  • Gaining public support for flood mitigation measures

Flood control strategies can help communities manage their flood risk and lower the potential cost of flood damage

Severe floods can happen in any community, and, when they do, they can wreak serious havoc: destroying homes and businesses, threatening people’s safety, temporarily shutting down the economy, and damaging infrastructure.

Communities can manage flood risk by implementing a flood mitigation strategy. The first step in flood control is to determine what areas of your community are most vulnerable to flooding and model exactly how those areas would be impacted by particular flood events. The next step is to make sure your ordinances and codes limit development in flood-prone areas and promote the planting and preservation of vegetation that will absorb flood waters and reduce flood intensity.

Successful flood control plans require cooperation among all stakeholders in a community, so it is essential to involve them throughout the planning and implementation stages. Obtaining grants and loans to support the initiative will help reduce opposition and lessen the impact on tight municipal budgets.

While the risk of flood damage cannot be completely eliminated, municipalities can greatly enhance the safety of their communities with a forward-thinking approach. The planning a municipality does today is key to weathering the storms tomorrow may bring.

Read the entire article here or in the print edition of Borough News magazine.

 

Watch Erin and other HRG personnel discuss the flooding that occurred around Harrisburg after Tropical Storm Lee and the measures local communities are taking to prevent similar damage in the future.

 

 

How to Choose the Best Method of GIS Data Collection for Water and Sewer Systems

Infrastructure Asset Management: Business Principles to Maximize Government Revenue Returns

This post is an excerpt from an article we published in the June 2017 issue of Borough News magazine entitled “Strategic Asset Management: Optimizing Your Borough’s Dollars.”

We hear a lot these days about the virtues of running government like a business, but what does that mean?

Any profitable business owner can tell you that success doesn’t happen by accident. Managers spend a good bit of time and money studying the environment in which they operate, identifying opportunities and threats, and planning the best ways to maximize growth while minimizing risk.

Though these efforts cost money, prudent managers know it is an investment in the company that will pay higher dividends over the long-term.

Part of a businessman’s overall strategic planning effort involves cataloguing his assets and maximizing their value. Assets can be wide-ranging: from people to trucks to buildings. The goal of asset management is to optimize the way you spend your budget dollars in order to make sure they are providing the biggest return: reducing the life cycle costs while maximizing the service each asset provides.

Who needs to optimize the way they spend their budget dollars more than cash-strapped municipalities under pressure to keep taxes low while obligations increase?

Most municipalities are grappling with aging infrastructure. Take water systems, for example: The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost to keep our water and wastewater system functioning over the long term is more than $1 trillion. While there is plenty of work to be done, there is simply not enough funding for communities to do it all at once. Therefore, ASCE recommends assessing the condition of every pipe and valve to determine the risks of failure and properly allocate funds where they are needed most. Asset management and capital improvement planning can help you target your limited budget dollars most effectively in all types of infrastructure: roadways, bridges, stormwater management systems and more.

For example, new technology is making it possible for municipalities to extend the life of their roadways through roadway management systems. Cameras and laser-scanning technology can be mounted to trucks that record the conditions of a municipality’s entire roadway system: noting cracks, pot holes, wheel rutting, and more. Doing this work manually would’ve been too labor-intensive and cost-prohibitive for communities in the past, but now, thanks to technological advancements, municipalities can collect better data at a lower cost without road closures or detours!

Once the data is collected, the municipality can work with an engineer to analyze it and prioritize a list of maintenance, repairs and reconstruction needs. A roadway management program like this emphasizes cost-effective, preventative maintenance activities to prolong the life of a roadway in good condition. By making well-timed, proactive investments, the municipality can enjoy better service from the roadway at a lower lifetime cost.

Silver Spring Township Roadway Management Program

HRG has designed a roadway management program for Silver Spring Township that is helping them save money and better position themselves for grant funding. Learn more

The same asset management and capital improvement principles can be applied to bridges, as well. Typically, this is done at the county level since they own more bridges than municipalities, but the process is similar. When Dauphin County first embarked on its bridge management program, 1/3 of its bridges were structurally deficient. They carefully catalogued the condition of each bridge and prioritized repairs and replacement contracts. Today, they have successfully eliminated all load-posted, structurally-deficient bridges in the county. The program has been so successful it’s generated a surplus of liquid fuels funding, and the county has been able to funnel that into a subsidized loan program for its municipalities to address their own infrastructure needs.

Duke Street Ribbon Cutting

Thanks to careful planning and a wise use of funds, Dauphin County recently completed the replacement of its last load-posted, structurally deficient bridge. Now they can use their Liquid Fuels money for an innovative infrastructure bank that is helping municipalities and the private sector improve local communities. Learn more

Asset management programs can be very important to municipalities looking to meet their MS4 stormwater obligations, as well – particularly if they are considering the implementation of a stormwater fee. Aging infrastructure and growing MS4 permit obligations are compelling municipalities to upgrade their stormwater systems. Though legislation allows them to charge a stormwater fee, they must be able to justify it, which means they must conduct a thorough inventory of their facilities and document the work that must be done to keep it functioning (along with cost estimates for that work). These are crucial facets of an asset management system.

Mobile GIS Development for MS4 Inspections

Municipalities will need a thorough inventory of their stormwater facilities and their condition in order to keep up with the increasing burden of MS4 permitting. Learn about a GIS application HRG created for Hampden Township to help them meet MS4 inspection and reporting requirements.

 

What is asset management?

Asset management is a systematic approach to minimizing the cost of owning, operating, and maintaining your infrastructure at acceptable levels of service.

It is not a computer system or GIS, though these are often valuable tools employed in an asset management program for record-keeping and data analysis.

A proper asset management and capital improvement program will help a municipality identify areas where money is not being spent wisely and reallocate those funds where they can be most beneficial.

It will also help you recognize and evaluate options for keeping your assets functioning for a longer period of time, so that you don’t need to invest in expensive upgrades or replacements as frequently.

It is a circular process that never ends.

Circular Nature of Asset Management

Many things change over time: the condition of your assets, regulations and the business climate you operate in, the number of users you serve, etc.  A good asset management and capital improvement program helps you plan for these changes in advance and respond proactively before they become threats to your bottom line.

 

What are the benefits of infrastructure asset management?

As we’ve already stated, an asset management and capital improvement program helps you identify exactly what maintenance and repair work is necessary without guesswork. This approach has multiple benefits:

Minimizing Risk
Knowing which infrastructure is most likely to fail (and correcting deficiencies before it does) can save you major expenses later. Knowing which failures would be the most catastrophic helps you target money toward their prevention as a first priority.

Maximizing Returns
Asset management and capital improvement planning is all about proactively investing in measures to extend the life of your infrastructure.  These small investments can extend the life of an asset by several years.

Optimizing Service and Satisfaction
Proactively maintaining your assets ensures they function at peak performance for a longer period of time and are replaced before they fail. This means your constituents receive top quality service without disruption and are happier for it. In addition, many asset management solutions include optional customer service applications that make it easier for residents and business owners to submit service requests and track them to completion.

Justifying Your Tax Rates or Fees
Rate increases are never popular, but they are easier for people to accept when they are backed up with clear data showing exactly what improvements are needed and why.

Accessing grants and loans
Competition for funding is fierce, and government agencies are under pressure to make sure the money they invest is used wisely. As a result, they’re more likely to award funds to municipalities who have clear documentation of the project need, its benefits, and a plan for getting it built, operating it, and maintaining it at optimum levels over time.

Improving your worth
Many municipalities have been considering the option of leasing or selling their assets as a response to growing financial obligations in the public sector. A comprehensive asset management system provides documentation of the value of your assets, so you can ensure you are in a position to negotiate the best possible deal for you and your constituents.  Potential investors will be more comfortable making a significant investment if they fully understand the value and the risks they’re assuming.

But asset management can benefit your financial picture even if leasing or selling is not on the horizon.

Under GASB standards, governments can either subtract a standard portion of their infrastructure’s value each year to account for depreciation (the traditional approach), or they can regularly assess the condition of the infrastructure, invest in maintenance to keep it in good condition, and then report the amount of money they have invested in maintenance (the modified approach, which is similar in scope to a typical asset management program).  Using the modified approach, the assets don’t have to depreciate in value like they would in the traditional approach.

A recent article in Governing magazine showed how investors appear to prefer trading bonds from governments that use the modified approach:

“Governments that use the modified method trade at much narrower price ranges compared to bonds from governments that depreciate. In other words, when a government uses the modified approach, investors are much more likely to agree on how to price its bonds. For governments, this can ultimately translate into lower bond interest rates.”

(excerpted from “Selling Your Sewer’s Story – Financial statements can make the best case for public works investors”)

 

The truth is, you’re going to have to invest in maintenance and repair anyway. If you invest in an asset management program, you can take a proactive approach to determining what maintenance is needed and then plan and budget for it in advance. This means you can target your maintenance dollars where they’re needed most and make sure you have the funds available to do the work before infrastructure failure brings even greater costs to bear on your budget.

Publicly-traded companies are held accountable to their shareholders. They must demonstrate that they are making good decisions for the future health of the company and maximizing the value of the shareholders’ investments. Taxpayers are coming to demand the same sort of accountability from their government, wanting proof that their tax dollars are providing a good return, as well. Municipal managers that can prove the value of their decisions will enjoy broad support of their constituents while improving the long-term financial stability of their community.


Adrienne M. VicariAdrienne Vicari, P.E., is the financial services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc., a civil engineering firm that serves local governments and authorities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Ms. Vicari has assisted numerous municipalities and water and sewer authorities with the creation of asset management programs that have created increased value and lowered costs for her clients.