Why does it take so long to complete a project after it’s been approved by voters? The new park signs were approved by voters in 2018 and are just now going up.
This is a compilation of questions received over the years regarding the timing of projects after funding has been approved by voters in a General Obligation (G.O.) Bond or Half-cent Sales Tax extension election. It has come up recently with publication of the Gateway and Wayfinding Signage Project, which was approved by voters in the 2018 General Obligation Bond Election.
For non-government types, no doubt the gap between voter approval and project completion seems lengthy. But those familiar with the process will be aware of the steps involved, which are outlined below. (Skip to the end for a condensed summary.)
6 months to 1 year prior to election
City staff selects projects/equipment to recommend to the City Council for approval to be included on the ballot(s). These recommendations are based on several factors, including department needs and input from the City Council, citizens, local groups, and volunteer boards and committees.
How much & how long
For G.O. Bond elections, staff will also recommend a dollar amount and a duration of the bond, or the length of time over which bonds will be issued and funding will become available. Generally speaking, the cost is high enough to fund much-needed projects and purchase equipment while low enough to ensure that taxes are not increased.
For half-cent sales tax extension elections, which provide funding for the City’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP), the total cost is kept below the amount of revenue that is anticipated to be generated by the tax over the tax period, usually five years.
Minimum of 60 days prior to the election
The City Council officially selects a date and calls for the election.
Also around this timeframe, the council will hear staff recommendations during a workshop meeting. No official action is taken during these meetings but council members are free to make suggestions or express concerns about the recommendations. The council then hears the final recommendations during a “regular” meeting of the council and considers official approval of the projects and the election.
The election is held. If the measure(s) pass, City staff members begin preparing a recommended schedule for funding over the term of the bond or half-cent sales tax period.
During the next budget approval process
The recommendations are presented to the council during the budget process, and final approval is typically sought during the first council meeting in June.
Over the duration of the bond or CIP sales tax period
The funding is issued in “tranches,” or a series of bonds over the G.O. bond (usually three years) or CIP sales tax (usually five years) duration. The amounts are different each time. The money is used to fund a group of projects as approved via the schedule.
Sometimes projects are moved
Sometimes projects are rescheduled due to a variety of factors; however, the dollar amounts do not change.
Completion may not occur the same year as funded
Keep in mind that just because the funding becomes available during a certain fiscal year doesn’t mean the project will be completed — or even started — that same year. One major reason for this is that the design phase for some of these projects, if not most of them, is fairly lengthy — commonly six months to a year. And sometimes the money is allocated but the project is not started until later due to other factors, including pairing projects to maintain efficiency and/or reduce costs.
Another factor is that many projects require an enormous amount of time and effort for City staff, most notably the engineering, finance, and public works departments. Even if all the money came through at once, there would not be enough staff to complete that many projects at one time.
There are many steps between an election and the availability of funding for the projects and equipment approved by voters in the election, including:
- For G.O. Bond elections, the funding is issued in tranches over the duration of the bond term. Therefore, some projects are funded the first year of the term while others are scheduled for funding in subsequent years.
- For Half-cent CIP Sales Tax elections, projects are funded as tax revenue becomes available over the duration of the CIP term.
- The design phase for most City projects is six months to one year.
- There is not enough City staff to facilitate all of the approved projects at one time.