Municipal Budgets and Comprehensive Plans -- What's the relationship?

Posted: February 15, 2015

How can municipal budgets be used to advance implementation of a municipal comprehensive plan? A Web-based seminar offered by Penn State Extension aimed at answering that question, and others.
If there is not enough money in the municipal budget, consider utilizing volunteers to implement plans.*

If there is not enough money in the municipal budget, consider utilizing volunteers to implement plans.*

Has your municipality used it's budgeting process to advance its comprehensive plan?

Does the municipality have an up-to-date comprehensive plan?

Is the plan strategic? (Does it include step-by-step actions that lead to goal and objective completion, which in turn lead to a realized "community vision?")

If a multi-municipal comprehensive plan exists, do the adopted budgets of all of the participating municipalities reflect the goals and objectives of that plan, and the financial requirements of the projects that the plan identifies?

In many of the communities where I work, often the leaders look for outside sources of funding to make projects happen. Who can blame them in tight fiscal times? What many don't fully realize is that by careful long-term planning, communities can maximize their internal resources, and then be better positioned to leverage outside resources as they become available.

I use my home community as an example. About 15 or more years ago, it was determined by a comprehensive planning process that better public sewerage infrastructure was needed. It was going to be extremely expensive (and controversial), especially if attempted all at once.

A forward-looking board of supervisors was elected, and that board decided to create a plan, called an Act 537 plan, to analyze the community's needs and then, step-by-step, implement in phases the infrastructure projects in the areas that were most affordable and most in need of coverage. No less than five phases and sewer districts were created, with the areas of the highest development density and most malfunctioning on-lot or package systems given first priority for funding and implementation. These project needs were built into the municipality's annual budgets, and a still earlier implementation step included budgeting for the creation of a new municipal sewerage "authority."

The Authority's role was to manage the sewer projects, with its own budgeting process, volunteer board, and paid staff, thus adding to the community's human and organizational capacity, and removing some of the associated workload from the small township staff and the municipality's general fund budget.

It was decided that each development phase would stand on its own merit for cost of construction and maintenance.  An "escalator clause" and policy was applied for any new tap-ins to create a capital fund for system maintenance and upgrades, and so that development sprawl would not be subsidized, which was a community concern.  The community is a rural/suburban township, and many wanted to keep it that way, as identified by public engagement and the adoption of a comprehensive plan that laid out the community vision.

The first two sewerage development phases cost the least, and were funded by various public sources of low-interest loans and bond issues.  These areas were also the places in the community with the greatest concentrations of low-income/low-resource property owners, highest density development, and the most significant and highest number of  environmental/public safety issues.

The later phases in the plan were increasingly expensive, and controversial, but these places included conservation areas and a public park without adequate bathroom facilities. In the places of these later phases, pockets of legacy, dense residential and industrial development were identified, and additional significant environmental challenges that existed were documented, making these projects eligible for some additional funding and financing.

Still, these phases were too costly to be constructed without additional subsidy or assistance. It was thought that it would be many years until there was enough money found, generated, or saved to construct the sewers in these phases and solve the environmental concerns. In the mean time, mitigation strategies were considered.

Then along came the federal stimulus funding package and programs adopted after the national economic financial collapse. Suddenly, because these later-phase projects were already planned and "shovel ready," they were eligible and quickly funded. These later phase projects would still be just a wish list of community needs if not for early, thoughtful planning, and if each of the plans' action steps weren't officially adopted and budgeted for by the municipal leaders.

This example is just one case study of the importance of planning, and how careful budgeting can lead to completed projects. For more, see the educational session described by the story in the link below.  These webinar sessions are recorded for later viewing.  Learn how your communities can make the most of budget development, adoption, and planning processes.

*To learn more about utilizing volunteers, see -- Engaging Your Community’s Generations In Planning

Contact Information

John Turack
  • Extension Assistant, Community & Economic Development
Phone: 724-837-1402