City of Kent works on strategic plan to rank capital projects

Criteria to help prioritize where funds are spent

A rendering of what a West Meeker Street promenade could look like near a planned new Marquee on Meeker development. The city’s Meet Me on Meeker proposal for the area is one of many capital projects under consideration by city officials. Courtesy image/City of Kent

A rendering of what a West Meeker Street promenade could look like near a planned new Marquee on Meeker development. The city’s Meet Me on Meeker proposal for the area is one of many capital projects under consideration by city officials. Courtesy image/City of Kent

Kent city officials are working on a new strategy to help determine which street, park, sewer or any other capital project should get done first.

Rather than looking at projects submitted individually by each city department, the City Council will get a cohesive list based on a criteria that scores and ranks each project so it can decide which work to fund.

“What we are wanting to do is address the fact that the city really doesn’t have a citywide strategy in writing that relates to prioritizing our capital needs, allocating our limited resources – which just seem to be getting more and more limited – and maintaining our existing infrastructure,” said Barbara Lopez, city finance deputy director, during a April 3 council workshop.

City staff is using capital planning best practices policies from the Government Finance Officers Association to help draw up a plan. Staff also is looking at similar policies used by the cities of Redmond, Renton and others.

“Right now we have Parks, Public Works, Economic and Community Development (departments) – they all have their capital projects that they like to see done,” said Council President Bill Boyce. “We are looking at putting together a comprehensive master plan so we can put all the projects on one plan and score them and prioritize.

“We think it is a good way to go because there are a lot of projects that need to be done and we need to have a mechanism and way to score to figure out what is the best investment we can get on the projects.”

Hayley Bonsteel, city long range planning manager, told the council that projects are defined in other city plans for parks, transportation and economic development but are not integrated.

”A lot of the plans might have different goals that aren’t aligned together, so the question is how do we merge the specialized plans into more of an overall city vision,” Bonsteel said.

Bonsteel used downtown as an example of an area that seems to be a priority for the council and Economic Development staff but yet there are not a lot of capital projects for downtown.

“The list of projects comes from other departments and for them downtown might not be a priority,” Bonsteel said.

Bonsteel said plans for Meeker Street vary because Economic Development wants to revitalize a commercial corridor while the city’s transportation master plan calls for the street to be widened to move as much traffic as quickly as possible. She said those are, “pretty opposed ideas.”

“We don’t have a central vision that all of the plans are working toward,” she said.

City staff plans to score projects on six categories – infrastructure preservation and replacement; scope of impact on residents; sub-area priorities (such as downtown and Midway); health and safety; environmental quality; and high priority.

Staff is working on a Microsoft Excel software tool to score each project.

“Scoring will help the city understand its priorities based on criteria,” Lopez said.

Proposals for water lines, sewer lines, streets, sidewalks and city buildings are all projects that will be scored.

“There might be a conversation where we decide a park in this location isn’t the best use of our money so maybe we make it open space as opposed to rebuilding something,” Lopez said.

Lopez said city facilities would be scored against each other, such as a new police headquarters against some other facility upgrade.

It also might come down to whether the council wants to spend all of its available funds on one project, do multiple projects or save up for a larger project, Bonsteel said.

Certain taxes and fees, however, must be spent on specific projects such as the business and occupation tax that goes to streets or the real estate excise tax on property sales that goes toward parks.

Derek Matheson, city chief administrative officer, explained to the council how the list will work in planning for annual budgets.

“The list that comes from criteria is not binding on the mayor and council – it won’t automatically spit out a list of projects that go in the budget,” he said. “It becomes a guidepost, but the mayor maintains the right to propose the budget and the council the right to adopt the budget. It just helps you make that decision in a more strategic way.”

City staff will bring back a capital investment strategy proposal in June or July to the council to review when more information also will be available about funding, Lopez said. She added the goal will be to adopt the policy later this year as the council and mayor prepare the 2019-2020 budget.

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