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Infrastructure Tops List of Mayoral Concerns, Report Says

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The top concern of American mayors is infrastructure, according to a recent report. This indicates that local officials realize that neglecting infrastructure to address other needs will end up hurting everything, says one of the report’s authors.

“Infrastructure has always been the sacrificial lamb,” said Farhad Omeyr of the National League of Cities (NLC) Center for Research and Data.

The NLC released its 10th annual “State of the Cities” report on July 21 during a panel discussion in Tacoma, Washington.

Mr. Omeyr said this is the third year that infrastructure topped the list of priorities for America’s mayors. Previously the city executives had placed economic development at the top of their lists, he said, but they have elevated infrastructure as a spending priority as city systems age and the federal government makes funding available.

In the end, Mr. Omeyr said, improving infrastructure will facilitate other priorities, such as the previous top choice.

Epoch Times Photo
Traffic flows on bridges near Philadelphia, Pa., on July 2, 2023. (Beth Brelje/The Epoch Times)

“Infrastructure is the capstone of economic development,” he said.

According to Mr. Omeyr, and other panelists, the $550 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) of 2021 has made it possible for many cities to address long-neglected infrastructure needs.

The five-year plan funds roads, bridges, transit, water, broadband, resilience, and other sectors. Two mayors on the panel said they had completed much-needed projects with BIL funding.

Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, Washington, which hosted the event, said her city removed all lead pipes from its municipal water system. She told the gathering that some things, like lead pipes, get neglected simply because they aren’t visible.

“Infrastructure is the thing you can’t see all the time,” she said.

Epoch Times Photo
Police officers fold the American Flag in the City of Orange, Calif., on Nov. 11, 2021. Mayors say they are still dealing with the fallout from George Floyd’s death in 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Ms. Woodards hopes also to improve city offices, fire and police stations, and other city workspaces.

“Those are the places we send our workers every day; they should be safe,”she said.

Eddie Sundquist, mayor of Jamestown, New York, echoed Ms. Woodards’ appreciation for federal assistance.

He said that in New York, cities must maintain state roads that run through their jurisdictions.

Mr. Sundquist said the state provides some funding, but the amount hasn’t changed since 1984.

“We had to fix 40 to 50 years of noninvestment,” he said.

Another change Mr. Omeyr noticed in the report is climate change’s role in decision-making.

Unused soil remain on the side of squash plants at Reeves Family Farm on Friday, June 9, 2023, in Princeton.
Unused soil remains on the side of squash plants at Reeves Family Farm in Princeton, Texas, on  June 9, 2023. This is one of the farms in Collin County that is following regenerative agriculture farming to help combat climate change. (Shafkat Anowar/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

The report quoted Mayor Cassie Franklin of Everett, Washington, who said in a speech this year that her town plans to “fully transition … buildings away from fossil fuels when possible, prioritizing buildings that present the greatest opportunity for greenhouse gas reductions.”

In addition to making the best use of tax dollars, the report shows that officials want infrastructure that can withstand the weather extremes that some climate scientists predict.

“Building climate-resilient infrastructure is not only a matter of safety but also of affordability. Research has shown that investing in resilience can save money in the long term by preventing or reducing repair costs and losses from service disruptions,” the report says.

Data from the NLC lists the top 10 infrastructure issues with streets and bridges first, at 88 percent of mayors who responded to a survey.

The list was rounded out with water systems at 85 percent; sewer system/storm water drainage at 74 percent; public utility (power) at 63 percent; water treatment and reclamation at 59 percent; parks and recreation areas at 43 percent; bridges at 28 percent; public buildings at 26 percent; public utility (broadband) at 24 percent; and public transit at 20 percent.

Infrastructure Often Overlooked

Mr. Omeyr agreed that infrastructure often gets overlooked because it isn’t always out in the open. In addition, city leaders often have other demands that seem more immediate. He floated the idea of making BIL a regular budget item.

“Cities are constrained with their budgets. So, I believe things such as a bipartisan infrastructure law should be a continuous thing, not a one-time thing,” Mr. Omeyr said.

The panelists in Tacoma also talked about public safety and their town’s recovery, and the fallout from George Floyd’s death while in police custody in 2020.

Ms. Woodards said Tacoma had been hit with a surge of police officers seeking early retirement. As city leaders tried to find new officers, she said they learned that hiring a police officer isn’t like hiring a clerk or mechanic.

According to Ms. Woodards, it can take 12 to 18 months for a new police officer to be fully prepared to work independently. In the search for personnel, she said the city of Tacoma was offering a $25,000 signing bonus for experienced law officers.

Police Offered Bonuses

The city also offered a $10,000 retention bonus for Tacoma police officers who agreed to stay at work.

In addition, the city provided training in mental health and drug addiction issues for police and others, such as mental health professionals, who can respond to calls.

“Many cities, including ours, are starting to look at alternative models. How can we supplement our police officers so that they can do the job that they decided to do?” Ms. Woodards said.

Mr. Omeyr and his researchers compiled data from 37 speeches made by mayors between October 2021 and April 2022, in which they talked about their cities’ most significant needs. The researchers also used publicly available U.S. Census Data.

Based on the data and the mayors ‘ comments, they devised a list of five top priorities for American cities. In addition to the top priority of infrastructure which comprised 32 percent of the mayors’ speeches, there were budget issues at 17 percent, public safety at 12 percent, economic development at 11 percent, and housing at 8 percent.



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