Developing the Capital Planning Process

Civil Engineering, Community, Governance, Project Management, UrbanWorkbench News

In my role at the City of Revelstoke, council has been working through the financial plan process, and this year I thought it might be useful to deliver the capital project information in a couple of ways that I hadn’t seen before. These ideas have been in my mind for a couple of years now, as I consider how to slice the financial data in meaningful ways for council and the public to understand decisions. Behind this data is often many hours of work by staff for each project in gathering costs, researching alternatives and determining the best timing for doing the projects, but despite that work, sometimes the most difficult part is presenting the data.

To start, I divided the projects into categories of assets under the program areas, for example:

Capital Project Categories

This may seem intuitive to a municipal engineer, but when asking the public to consider over a hundred capital projects in a plan and determine where it fits into the big picture, it is important to be able to divide the data into meaningful chunks. The other benefit of performing this categorization is that it is possible to determine, again in small chunks, (but not down to the individual asset level), how much investment into each category has been made in a given year, and over time, comparing that to the replacement value of the assets and the depreciation cost incurred by the municipality. In the following fictitious example, if an average of $200,000 is invested in sewer collection (valued at say $20M), it would be reasonable to say that we were averaging 1% replacement per year, but in this example, the financial wizards have estimated that the sewer collection assets were depreciating at 1.5% per year, thus losing the City $100,000 in effective net worth each year. To be able to show this level of data across the range of municipal assets by category will be invaluable for decision-makers in the capital planning process. [click to continue…]

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Financially Sustainable Water Utilities

BC, Civil Engineering, Governance, Sustainability, Water

In 2015 BC Water & Waste Association (BCWWA), with Urban Systems, completed an assessment of the financial sustainability of Water and Wastewater Utilities in British Columbia. The assessment uses 4 financial indicators based on data from the 2013 audited financial statements for municipal governments in BC. The indicators were selected based on a review of best practices in other jurisdictions, available information, and advice from knowledgeable professionals in the asset management field.

The report addresses the following questions:

  • Are BC municipalities financially well positioned to meet their existing water and wastewater infrastructure investment needs to maintain current levels of service?
  • Are water and wastewater rates recovering the full cost of service, including infrastructure renewal and replacement?
  • How much investment is needed to sustain BC’s water and wastewater infrastructure?
  • Are municipalities financially resilient to withstand sudden or unexpected changes in revenues or costs for water and wastewater systems?

For Revelstoke, these are questions that we are reviewing on an annual basis, and particularly as we begin detailing asset management plans for all assets. [click to continue…]

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Integrating Sustainability into Infrastructure Projects

Cities, Civil Engineering, Community, Conference, Regulation, Sustainability, Urban Living, UrbanWorkbench News, Water

Earilier this month I had the pleasure of being invited to the FCM Sustainable Communities Conference in London, Ontario. Working with a great team of presenters I helped develop a one-day workshop for about 45 delegates on the topic of Sustainable Asset Management. This is a fairly new area of influence for FCM, and the workshop coincided with the announcement of a new branch of funding under the Green Municipal Fund called the Leadership in Asset Management Program, which is exciting news for municipalities looking to innovate in Asset Management.

My presentation developed the idea of Sustainable Infrastructure Decisions, using the Envision Infrastructure Rating System as a project guide, and I received some great feedback from delegates that had not heard of the rating system before and were keen to introduce it into their municipalities. During the presentation, I asked the delegates to consider how the infrastructure projects that their communities are doing every year could be done better, and specifically, to challenge their engineers to consider sustainability in all aspects of infrastructure projects. [click to continue…]

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FCM Sustainable Communities Conference 2015

Canada, Civil Engineering, Conference

I am honoured to be speaking at the 2015 FCM Sustainable Communities Conference in London Ontario in a couple of weeks time.

Numbers_EN

 

I am currently putting the final touches on the afternoon presentation for the one day workshop on “Asset Management and Sustainability” that links Asset Management practices with developing sustainable civil engineering projects in the municipal sector.  If you are planning on being at the FCM conference, drop me a line, I’m excited to be presenting, and really looking forward to meeting new people and learning from Canada’s sustainability experts.

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Attracting and Retaining Municipal Engineers

Civil Engineering, Governance

As I read various small town articles around North America about municipal engineering, there is frequent news of municipalities that have just lost their city engineer and are looking for a replacement, or are trying to work out how to do without.

Having been subject to the brunt of one municipality’s decision to reduce technical engineering staff (to zero), and now being responsible for an engineering department in a (not quite as) small municipality, I understand the pressures faced with budgets and decisions that need to be made.

One article that caught my eye comes from Niagara Falls, NY:

The top engineering post in Niagara Falls municipal government has been vacant since the departure of former City Engineer Jeff Skurka in April of 2013.

In the interim, Mayor Paul Dyster’s administration has used a combination of department staffers and private engineering consultants to tend to projects that fall under the city’s responsibility.

Via: Editorial: Engineering void speaks to bigger issue

Niagara FallsReading on in the article, it seems that there are two issues at stake. The first is the residency requirement for the position, apparently intended to drive a larger portion of taxpayer-funded salaries back into the local economy. Policies such as this may drive away talent who may already happily live nearby, but may not wish to relocate for the position. I heard of similar policies in some municipalities in the West Kootenays of BC when we moved there in 2007. When offered a position in a neighbouring municipality, I was informed that I wouldn’t have to move there – I was surprised that it could even be a condition of employment!

The second issue raised in the article is one that is faced in all levels of government and particularly in municipalities across North America – politics and the longevity of the position. This may be one of the biggests issues that drives many talented professionals away from the government sector.

In the case of the city engineer job, council members were right to think a sitting mayor entering the final year of his term would struggle to find a qualified engineer willing to move into the city without a higher level of confidence about the longevity of the move.

The net result is a city of over 50,000 people (wikipedia) without a City Engineer for almost two years, relying on in-house staff and likely expensive consultants to cover the shortfall, costing the community financially and placing them in a leadership void. City Engineers are the infrastructure heros of our communities, we need to do more to attract and retain  top talent into the sector to ensure that the infrastructure foundation of our communities are sound.

 

 

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70cm of Snow in 48 hours – Revelstoke

BC, Community, Photos, Revelstoke

Last week the City of Revelstoke received about 70cm of snow in 48 hours, causing all sorts of havoc on the Trans Canada Highway…



Off the highway, city crews were out cleaning up the snow, (apparently a 25-year high single snowfall event), for days after, and the arterial and collector roads were passable through the whole event. While communities like Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna called a snow day, Revelstoke kept on working, schools were open and sidewalks were plowed, with the only disruption to service being to the transit bus service for a few hours.

Snow Removal Revelstoke

Revelstoke Snow Blower

Downtown Revelstoke

In winter, Revelstoke thrives on deep powder, drawing crowds from around the world to enjoy some of the best terrain in the world. That’s one of the reasons we love being here, (and yes we did get out to enjoy some amazing knee-deep powder last Monday!)

 

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Warning – Email Wideload

Business, Software, Technology

Last week I saw an email that was approximately 600 words that I was able to sum up in 3 sentences:

I may have misinterpreted your instructions, but I’m concerned that you are expecting x, y and z from me. I’m stretched a bit thin right now.  I may need some assistance if I am responsible for completing x,y and z; please confirm your expectations.

Oversized Load

That’s 44 words – more than 90% less words than the original.

The lesson here – Keep it simple – if you feel that it needs to be longer due to complexity, write a report, letter or make a phone call or see them recipient in person. Email overload is compounded by unnecessarily complex content.

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Writing

UrbanWorkbench News

I write, and I’m an engineer – but the number of times that I’ve been told that engineers don’t write, combined with the simple fact that while growing up I recall having loathed writing, it seems an odd combination. This resonated with me this week:

The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life. It is a habit of antiphony: of call and response. Most days begin with sentences that are typed into a journal no one has ever seen. There is a freedom to this; freedom to write what I will not proceed to wrestle with. The entries are mostly quotidian, a warming up of the fingers and brain. On days when I am troubled, when I am grieved, when I am at a loss for words, the mechanics of formulating sentences, and of stockpiling them in a vault, is the only thing that centers me again.

My Life’s Sentences – By Jhumpa Lahiri via New York Times

I’m often brooding over the words as I plan out the structure of an article, hearing phrases form in the back of my mind while the kids chatter at the breakfast table, a sentence completed while shaving, scribbled down for later insertion, words swirling behind my eyelids as I fall asleep at night.

I’m reminded of my own post from a lunchtime in Langley, BC, where I contemplated the deliberative act of writing…

Almost no-one writes by hand anymore, particularly not in cursive, the very act almost counter cultural, not in some strange Winsten-esque 1984 moment, but more an act of patience and deliberative effort in an age of speed and information overload.

Writing and journalling has been taking a backseat recently, but I miss it. I’ve been busy with other creative endeavours including music, but in 2015 I’m planning on writing more, both on the blog, professionally, and maybe even some creative writing in there too.Writing by Hand

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