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Steps to Take Today to Secure Infrastructure Bill Funding Tomorrow

Russ Loebe, ICMA-CM

Congress is on the brink of approving the largest federal investment in infrastructure in decades, making now the time for government agencies and municipalities to begin planning how best to apply this infrastructure bill funding in their communities. Once the legislation is passed, billions of dollars in federally derived funds will be made available for local governments. No doubt, competition for these funds will be strong and the needs many throughout the country. Getting an early start on the process will give agencies a critical edge toward securing needed funding and aligning resources to support approved infrastructure projects.

Although we can’t say for certain what the final legislation will look like, it’s a good bet that many of the policies and procedures associated with prior federal programs will apply to the infrastructure bill funding as well. As such, the preparation work that goes into accessing these new funds should be consistent with prior federal assistance programs. By following the steps outlined below, you can begin to strategically prepare your application and boost its likelihood of funding approval.

Identify community infrastructure needs

The first step all agencies should take today to secure infrastructure bill funding is to create new or review existing capital improvement plans and long-standing needs lists. Although some infrastructure needs may be clear, you should develop a complete and detailed list. You may find that the needs you prioritized in the past may not match new program requirements, so it is best to have a project pool to choose from.

As this internal work is completed, good governance policy dictates that a deliberate, open, and transparent process of gathering input from citizens and other stakeholders in identifying and prioritizing infrastructure projects should be used. Seeking input from the community through public engagement, as well as sharing funding needs with your congressional representatives, all help build community support while improving your chances for project funding. Civic engagement has been a key part of the recent American Rescue Plan Act funding and following that pattern may help secure your application’s success.

Prioritizing infrastructure projects that could be pursued jointly with other jurisdictions may also increase the appeal of a project and improve your odds of funding success. Joint projects tend to score better because agencies that review grant applications often see multi-jurisdictional projects as a more impactful return on funding. Now is an opportune time to identify and connect with other agencies that might benefit from working collaboratively to do the most good for the larger population.

Align priorities with potential infrastructure bill funding

Once your priorities have been developed, you should be able to align your list of infrastructure project candidates with grants and programs identified in the legislation. For example, published information about recent drafts of the legislation report robust transportation funding in the bill. It is also believed that many of that traditional federal grant funding programs will be used for the distribution of funds. Should you have a transportation project priority, now is a good time to start thinking about matching and preparing your project for application through federal and state-administered programs.

In addition to traditional projects such as roadways, water, and sewer work, give consideration to infrastructure needs that have evolved out of the pandemic. This includes work in support of digital and disaster-resilient infrastructure, as well as broadband accessibility. The federal government has prioritized the need for high-speed broadband access as a strategic national initiative. Now is the time to consider your local needs for this important infrastructure as well.

Understanding the specific program’s financial requirements—such as local funding matches, for example—will help you to better position your request. Although it may not be clear how federal government infrastructure funding will be distributed, all communities face the same challenge. Those that prepare a strong case for funding today will be in a better position to pursue funding as details are confirmed.

Consider your available resources

Once you’ve identified the most impactful projects to pursue, you can begin the bureaucratic work of applying for grants through various agencies. For example, in advance of the infrastructure funding bill’s approval, you may be able to refine the project scope, develop supporting details, and further refine the cost of your prioritized projects.

Having these details in place increases the likelihood of securing infrastructure bill funding for your projects. It’s also important to understand that many of these grant programs will require detailed application submittals as well as thorough regulatory compliance and reporting, subject to federal government oversight and auditing. To avoid potential problems and bottlenecks later, take time now to review your organization’s internal controls and processes. Given the volume and complexity of the work to come, it’s best to assess now whether your current staff has the capacity to adequately apply for, manage, and administer the work needed to see a project through from start to finish. An honest assessment will give your organization time to either increase staffing or identify a consulting partner that can provide the critical support needed to successfully drive an infrastructure project through from application to completion.

Secure support your constituents can count on

Taking the time now to secure critical funding for your community’s needs is the very definition of serving your constituents. Regardless of how that funding ultimately is established, whether through this pending infrastructure funding bill or more traditional funding mechanisms, planning today to address long-standing infrastructure needs is a step closer to improving the quality of life for citizens in your community.

Working to improve the quality of life for individuals is at the heart of everything we do at HR Green. We’re committed to supporting local governments at every phase of their infrastructure projects. Through our Governmental Services, we provide staff augmentation and consulting services that allow you to meet project needs as they arise.

Contact HR Green as you prepare for your next big project.

Russ Loebe, an ICMA Credentialed City Manager, is HR Green’s Vice President of Governmental Services. Russ brings 33 years of prior municipal government experience before joining HR Green. Russ leads local government projects, studies, and general management consultation for HR Green. Russ can be reached at rloebe@hrgreen.com

 

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