Lawrence City Commission to consider new method for prioritizing spending on capital projects

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016

City leaders will soon finalize a new method for prioritizing the infrastructure projects and other capital expenses that make up a significant portion of the city’s budget.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider approving a new prioritization method for the city’s Capital Improvement Plan that scores one-time projects and purchases against nine factors or categories. Last month, the commissioners provided some feedback on the guidelines, but Tuesday they will vote to confirm the nine categories, their definitions and the questions used under each category to determine a project’s score.

The multimillion-dollar CIP is drafted and approved annually as part of the budget process. The 2020-2024 CIP included about $336 million of projects and purchases, including street, utility and recreation projects. The city manager will use the new method to create the recommended CIP for the upcoming budget.

The method involves a new scoring process for prioritizing one-time capital improvement projects and purchases. Under the new method, those potential expenses are evaluated in nine categories that are assigned different weights. The process for vehicles and equipment purchases and ongoing maintenance programs will not change, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

Following changes based on commission feedback last month, the nine categories long-term planning, health/public safety, infrastructure, regulatory compliance, external funding, impact on operating budget, quality of life, location/time, equity and sustainability, according to the memo. Under the proposal from city staff, equity and sustainability were a single category, and the commission asked that they be separated out to give each more weight.

Under the new method, each department will score its projects using the guidelines, and a CIP committee will review the scores for consistency across departments. Each factor is weighted so that the final score is out of 100. The memo states that the category change was achieved in part by reducing the weight of the external funding category, another change commissioners suggested.

Under the revised scoring, the factor with the highest weight is regulatory compliance, which has a weighted score of four. The health/public safety factor has a weighted score of three. Five factors have a weighted score of two: long-term planning, infrastructure, impact on operational budget, quality of life and location/timing. The two factors with the lowest weight are equity and sustainability, which have a weighting of one.

The commission discussed the weightings when providing feedback on the method last month, and several suggestions were made but there was not necessarily consensus on all of them, meaning that at least three commissioners indicated they were in favor of the change. For instance, commissioners Lisa Larsen and Stuart Boley indicated they were in favor of further increasing the importance of the sustainability category by increasing its weighting, and other commissioners suggested additional weighting changes, as the Journal-World previously reported.

The commission will not necessarily finalize the weightings as part of its meeting Tuesday. The memo states that at this point city staff needs the commission to come to a consensus about the categories themselves and the questions used under each category to determine the score. City staff can then use that framework to inform its recommended CIP, and the weighting could be changed later in the process following further commission discussion.

The prioritization guidelines are being finalized in preparation for the city manager’s recommended CIP for 2021-2025, which will ultimately be considered as part of the 2021 budget process. The recommended CIP will be brought to the commission for consideration in June.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website,


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