CIB notes Most great community ideas require funds – a walk through the CIB process


The CIB, or Capital Improvement Budget, is a fund held by the City of St. Paul, designed to make capital improvements throughout the city. Before the CIB process was started, the various city departments, community organizations and residents of the City of St. Paul would make intermittent funding requests to the city for road improvements, facility upgrades and any other capital funding request that you could imagine. The purpose of the CIB is to streamline these funding requests into a unified process on a bi-annual basis.

Every person or organization who seeks CIB funding must submit a CIB funding request to the city prior to the deadline. In 2011, the CIB funding process takes place for the years 2012-2013. All proposals for funding were due on January 10, 2011 to the Office of Financial Services.

Because anyone can submit a project for funding, as long as the project is within the City of St. Paul, there is a lengthy vetting process to find the best projects for funding. In the first step, the city departments rank their projects in order of importance. The vast majority of CIB funding requests come from the Parks Department, the Police Department and the Fire Department.

For the second step, three separate community task forces are assembled to review and rank all of the projects. The Community Facilities task force hears about funding requests for community buildings like police training facilities, fire stations, community pools and recreation centers. The second task force, Streets and Utilities, rates road improvement projects, bridge improvements, street lighting and bicycle path projects. The final task force, the Residential and Economic Development task force, hears and rates business district improvement projects, vacant home projects and housing improvement projects.

The three task forces are made up of volunteers from the 17 District Councils. The St. Paul District Councils are community groups for each neighborhood in the city. Each District Council can appoint one task force member and one alternate member. There are also task force members appointed by the senate districts and some appointed by the city.

I was appointed by the 4th District Council, which includes Dayton’s Bluff and Mounds Park, to the Community Facilities task force. There is no special training or knowledge that is required to be nominated by your District Council. Before the process starts, you simply must ask your District Council if they will appoint you to the task force. Many times, you may be the only person to express an interest and by default will be appointed to serve on the task force. Other times, there may be 2 or 3 people interested in serving. This is not a problem because it is important to have alternates. If you miss a task force meeting, you lose your vote on all projects that were discussed that day. So it is very important to have an alternate in case the regular member cannot be present.

It is a significant, but relatively short time commitment. The Community Facilities task force, for example, met every Monday from 4:30 pm until 6:30 pm for 7 weeks. It was an interesting experience and a good way to learn how city government operates. We heard requests from the Police Department for a new septic system at their firing range, additional parking spaces at the Downtown Station, and for a new bomb squad facility, among other things. The Fire Department asked to have 3 stations replaced or renovated. Of particular concern to me were that two of the three firehouses in the city that need to be replaced are on the Eastside, near my house. Fortunately these projects were rated very highly.

Then there were numerous requests from the Parks Department for improvements to city parks playgrounds, and recreation facilities. I learned that the useful life of a playground is about 25 years. The Parks Department was good at asking that the oldest facilities receive funding first. The playgrounds that were highest on their priority list were around 25-30 years old, so it seems that the process works well.

In addition to requests from the city, some individuals and neighborhood groups, learning that their parks were not slated for priority, asked to submit a separate CIB request. I recall that there were two neighborhood groups who wanted funding more quickly for their parks than they would receive under the Park Department’s priority rating. A playground in the Como Park area did not receive a very warm reception from the task force, because although the park was worn, it was in no greater need of repair than the dozens of other parks in the City and according to the Park Department, it would be a priority in another 6 years. However, a downtown community group convinced us that a small playground in Downtown St. Paul deserved quicker funding because it is the only playground in all of downtown. They showed us that over the past several years the population of children downtown has grown at a high rate and the number of children living downtown will continue to grow. I also think that it helped that relatively speaking they had a small budget request. This was a good example of St. Paul residents taking priority away from their own local projects to support a project that is important to St. Paul as a whole. There was good dialogue between the community members on the task force and I believe that we did an excellent job of prioritizing the funding projects for the benefit of the city as a whole.

In addition to the rankings of the three task forces, each District Council is asked to rank the projects that are located in their districts and to submit their rankings to the Office of Financial Services. This is an important step, so that each neighborhood can have input into which projects in their neighborhood are the most important to them.

Next, there is a CIB committee that is generally made up of community members that have significant CIB task force experience. These committee members sit in on the task force meetings. They know the process well and know which projects have consistently been rated well over the years, but have not yet received any funding. They can also consider feasibility of the project and will consider costs. For instance, a new firehouse is very expensive, but it is also a very high safety priority. The committee will weigh the cost against the benefits and maybe decide that it is important to have a couple dozen small projects receive funding or maybe find that a couple of very large projects deserve funding this time around. The CIB Committee also takes the findings from each of the three separate task forces and finds the best overall projects.

The City Council receives the rankings from the City Departments, District Councils, the CIB task forces and the CIB Committee. The City Council will review the rankings and the budget and make a final recommendation for the Mayor. The Mayor then reviews the proposals and can make changes to the CIB budget or pass the City Council’s recommendation.

As a task force member, I was able to confer with other community members throughout the city and come to a compromise and consensus on the many funding requests. I believe that we all had St. Paul’s best interest at heart and worked to recommend the best projects for the city. This was my first task force experience, but I am told that the City Council and the Mayor take our recommendations very seriously. I suppose if anything it takes pressure away from them to make tough decisions and they can blame us if anyone complains about how the CIB funding is distributed.

The CIB committee will make its recommendations to the City Council and Mayor in June and the CIB budget will not be passed by the City until November or December of this year. The funding will be for projects in 2012-2013. The next CIB process will begin in January 2013 for the years 2014-2015.

Although most of the funding requests came from City Departments, there were some that came from individuals in the community. From Dayton’s Bluff, we had two individuals submit funding requests for projects that would be very beneficial to our neighborhood. Both of these projects ranked high and may see funding during this session.

However, it can be difficult for individuals to be successful in receiving CIB funding because it is a long process and requires significant planning. If you have a project that you think deserves city funding, the time is now to start planning for the 2013 session. The biggest problem that I saw with individual proposals was a lack of in-depth planning. Some individual requests were great ideas and would benefit the people of St. Paul, but their ranking was severely cut when the individual did not have a financial agent, construction estimates, or detailed plans on how their project would be run day to day. It was difficult for us to recommend a project unless those important logistical questions could be answered.

If you feel that you have a good project for our neighborhood, you can contact the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council and we will work with you to make a well-planned funding request for the next session.