Chapter 14 | Deciding When and Where to Build New Public Facilities


This chapter introduces capital budgets and Capital Improvement Programs (CIPs), fiscal tools used to guide local investments in expanded schools, roads, water and wastewater systems, parks and other public infrastructure. The substantive aspects of planning for such facilities are discussed in other chapters, but transportation plans, parks plans and similar facilities plans rarely include firm budgetary commitments. It is the capital budgeting and CIP process that makes projects a reality. This project discusses the link between planning and the CIP, and it discusses the role of “smart growth” investments in managing the shape of future growth of the community.

Weblinks from Chapter


  1. Contact your local sewer and water provider(s). Obtain maps, or rough sketches, of areas to which they have extended service in the last five years. Look at what has happened in those areas. Compare these extensions and the related development activity to the community’s future land-use plan.
  2. Does your community have a capital improvements program? To find out, contact the local government finance office, or the office of the mayor or other chief executive. Ask for a copy of the summary version of the CIP. Compare it to the comprehensive plan. Do they make sense? Do they reinforce each other?
  3. Ask a representative of the local sewer and water provider to come to your class and talk about how that entity makes decisions about line extensions. Is the comprehensive plan a factor that they consider?
  4. Contact the planning office and ask for a copy of the most recent regional transportation plan, the one used by your state department of transportation in making its decisions about new projects. Compare it to the comprehensive plan. Do they reinforce each other, or are there differences or even serious inconsistencies?

Discussion Question

  1. Based on what you have learned so far in this course, and on what you discovered in the exercises for this chapter, what do you think are the dominant forces determining the pattern of growth in and around your community? Do you think that your local planning commission and public officials fully understand that? If not, how would you educate them about these issues?


  • Baltimore County, Maryland, provides a description of its process, criteria for selection of projects and other details of its CIP process on-line.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida, encourages neighborhood association to propose projects for its CIP and provides guidelines to the process on its website .
  • Kansas City, Missouri, provides a succinct summary of how it creates a capital budget and how the capital budget relates to the rest of the city budget.
  • The Colorado Springs website for its capital budgeting process shows its needs assessments as well as the CIP.
  • To see an example of the “rolling” nature of typical CIPs, see the Mesa, Arizona, website, which includes a user-friendly description of the process and shows the overlapping CIPs for the last five years.
  • Brockton, Massachusetts, publishes its annual plans in draft form, with spending allocations, to obtain citizen comments before making final budget decisions.
  • The Missoula, Montana, website includes a description of the CIP process and two years of capital budgets.
  • Wilsonville, Oregon, provides a map as a sort of table of contents to its CIP, making it easy to find projects in particular parts of the city.

Supplemental Resources

  • The leading professional organization for local budget officers is The Government Finance Officers Association. Like other professional organizations cited on this website, it provides publications that are helpful to its members; some of those relate to capital programming and budgeting.
  • Massachusetts and Colorado have both published manuals to guide local governments in preparing capital improvement plans and programs. There is a link to the manual for Massachusetts under “Weblinks from chapter.”  The Colorado manual is here.

Common Search Terms

Use these terms in search engines to find additional examples and other resources:

capital improvements program, capital improvements plan, capital facilities plan, public facilities plan