Infrastructure must be a priority

Infrastructure is often referred to as the backbone of a community. We take for granted the streets we drive on, the water that comes from our faucets, and the storm drains that keep our streets from flooding. We rarely think about infrastructure until it fails.

The fact is we are now behind on the basics. On our island, sections of roadways are eroding. Untreated stormwater runoff is transporting pollutants into the Puget Sound. Deteriorated underground pipes present the potential for sinkholes to open up in our roads. Inadequate water capacity presents a major fire hazard for downtown Winslow. This deficient infrastructure system that we count on every day is now our most urgent problem. (A major report released this week by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young revealed shocking statistics on the state of the nation’s infrastructure, showing us that we are not alone.)

Over the next few months, the city will develop its long-range Capital Facilities Plan. The city is required under the Growth Management Act to adopt a six-year plan to ensure there are adequate public facilities to serve its citizens. The cornerstone of the GM is a requirement that local governments provide their citizens with adequate and reliable infrastructure. Determining that “uncoordinated and unplanned growth” posed a threat to the state and its citizens, the Legislature created a framework that requires coordination between land use planning and provisions for capital facilities and infrastructure.

We must now piece together a workable plan. In the face of legal realities, diverse expectations in our community, and finite funding resources, it is imperative that we prioritize. Our Comprehensive Plan provides guidance; it requires that the city allocate resources to capital projects in the following order:

1) Major maintenance of existing facilities;

2) Elimination of existing deficiencies;

3) Provision of new or expanded facilities to accommodate new growth.

This approach ensures the city is making efficient use of its existing infrastructure, meeting our critical needs, complying with our legal requirements and responding to competing demands for finite financial resources. As a city, we have a legal obligation to ensure safe and adequate public facilities to meet our citizens’ existing needs. We also have a civic obligation.

When our infrastructure fails, it threatens our health and safety, destroys our community’s confidence in its government, and harms our quality of life. More than ever before, we need a clear understanding of our priorities and leadership to confront the most urgent challenges.

The city’s current financial situation presents an opportunity for us to step back and evaluate where we are and where we need to be. For years now, money available for infrastructure repairs has been impacted by several state-wide tax reform bills. Additionally, many of the grant and loan funds that cities depend on are underfunded. We cannot change these facts. We need to focus now on what we can change.

We need to address the disconnect between the resources the city can reasonably anticipate receiving and the promises made to fund projects, deliver services and support essential programs. And we should ask ourselves whether Bainbridge has been acting like a homeowner who spends an ever-increasing amount of his budget on operating costs, like groceries and eating out, ignoring the knocking furnace and the leaking roof.

It is time to focus on aligning our spending with critical city priorities and core infrastructure needs.

Hilary Franz is a first-term member of the Bainbridge Island City Council

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