Why is a detailed capital improvement plan essential?

While there are an unprecedented number of state and federal grant opportunities available today, they come with a myriad of requirements, and an expectation that communities have identified their priorities and those are shovel ready.


The question is, how do you get to that point?

The first step is the development of a capital improvement plan or CIP. A CIP is a foundational document that prioritizes the community’s needs in the upcoming 5 – 10 years. While a CIP helps to lay out a community’s needs, there are a number of other benefits that come with planning how to maintain and improve or expand the assets that have been invested in over many years.

A community’s capital infrastructure is its largest asset. These assets include municipal buildings, roads, bridges, equipment, vehicles and much more. All of these items have a life span and a CIP provides a working blueprint for how to sustain and improve these assets. It also aids a community in planning for the expansion of assets if the community is growing. So why develop a plan?

A plan is a critical budgeting tool. Understanding and planning for the replacement of equipment or maintenance of buildings helps the community budget for those larger costs. By doing so before something has reached the end of its useful life, a community can avoid an emergency repair or purchase. In an era, such as we are in now with supply chain shortages and higher prices that have resulted, good planning saves money.

A capital plan includes details on each of the major costs for a project. For example, a water infrastructure project would include engineering and construction. By identifying when the project should be done and the engineering costs associated with being shovel ready, the community can make decisions on how to best spend its resources to move the project ahead. A plan identifies funding sources of which there are many at present (ARPA, Federal Infrastructure, various State programs). Such planning helps identify which grant opportunities to focus on to achieve its objectives.

One area that increasingly cannot be ignored is climate resiliency and mitigation of the hazards that may result. Communities that have identified these issues in their capital plan will have taken the initials steps to address them. There are a number of grant opportunities available to develop vulnerabilities and hazards, and then additional programs to fund projects. Often these come with matching requirements for the communities so those who have planned for them are more likely successful to be awarded a grant.

A number of stakeholders value the planning and prioritization that goes into a CIP. Residents are informed about the costs of maintaining the investments they’ve already made in their community and the timing by which they will be asked to invest in new ones. A plan can also help galvanize support behind a project if voters believe that a plan has been carefully considered. Increasingly, bond rating agencies expect that a community has a CIP in place. With competing demands for every tax dollar, rating agencies place emphasis on a community thinking ahead regarding its capital needs.


Investing our time to develop a capital improvement program has reaped a number of benefits for Norfolk. Not only has it helped identify our needs and priorities, it has also earned us the confidence and trust of our elected officials and residents that the items we're requesting are needed and the cost has been aligned with the Town's financial plan. The plan has also helped us strategize the best approach to be shovel ready for the myriad of grant opportunities available to communities presently.
Blythe C. Robinson, Norfolk Town Administrator

While it might sound like a lot of work, deciding to develop a plan is the first step! Gathering your staff and stakeholders together with the support of an experienced team can help you catalog your assets, prioritize your needs, coordinate those with your financial plan and put you in the best position to seek out other funding opportunities. Contact us at info@capital-strategic-solutions.com or call 508-690-0046.

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