What is a CIP?
A Capital Improvement Program, or CIP, is a multi-year (typically 5 years) capital expenditure plan for a City’s infrastructure (such as streets, parks and utility systems), vehicles, equipment and public buildings. It identifies the major projects needed and desired by the community, their potential costs and how they would be financed. Including a project in a CIP does not commit the city to that project. The City Council must specifically authorize each one, and the associated funding, before any project may proceed. When the CIP is reviewed (ideally annually, in conjunction with the budgeting process) projects may go forward as planned, advance ahead of schedule, be removed entirely, or new projects may be added, depending upon changes in circumstances and priorities.
The Minnesota Land Planning Act requires that the implementation plan portion of the Comprehensive Plan include a CIP for major infrastructure needs (transportation, wastewater, water supply, parks and open space) for a five-year time period. Cities often expand the scope of their CIPs to include other capital needs (major equipment replacements, for example) and sometimes look beyond the five-year time period, up to 20 years in the future for some projects. Such projects represent more of a “wish-list” that can be evaluated each time the plan is updated.
As a part of the Comprehensive Plan, the CIP has some legal standing. Minnesota Statutes Chapter 473.865 provides that “a local governmental unit shall not adopt any official control or fiscal device which is in conflict with its comprehensive plan.” A fiscal device includes a budget or bond issue; so it is important that the plan and CIP be kept up to date and in synch with city budgets.
The primary benefit of a CIP is as a financial planning tool, to help the city plan for the impact of capital needs on future budgets and property taxes, and to help forecast the need for borrowing to undertake major projects. The information developed as part of the capital planning process can help document the need for various projects and help the City Council sort out competing priorities.