Policies designed to guide capital planning help to assure that each jurisdiction's unique needs are fully considered in the capital planning process. Effective policies can also help a government to assure the sustainability of its infrastructure by establishing a process for addressing maintenance, replacement, and proper fixed asset accounting over the full life of capital assets. In addition, capital planning policies can strengthen a governments borrowing position by demonstrating sound fiscal management and showing the jurisdictions commitment to maximizing benefit to the public within its resource constraints.
Good capital planning policies can lead to the development of a capital plan that is consistent with best practices; however, they do not constitute the capital plan itself. Rather, capital planning policies establish a framework in which stakeholders understand their roles, responsibilities, and expectations for the process and an end result.1 Ideally, such policies also include guidelines for coordinating capital projects and promoting sound, long-term operational and capital financing strategies.
To create a sustainable capital plan, the finance officer and other participants in the capital planning process need to consider all capital needs as a whole, assess fiscal capacity, plan for debt issuance, and understand impact on reserves and operating budgets, all within a given planning timeframe. Capital planning policies provide an essential framework for managing these tasks and for assuring that capital plans are consistent with overall organizational goals.
GFOA recommends that governments develop and adopt capital planning policies that take into account their unique organizational characteristics including the services they provide, how they are structured, and their external environment.
Capital planning policies should provide, at minimum:
- A description of how an organization will approach capital planning, including how stakeholder departments will collaborate to prepare a plan that best meets the operational and financial needs of the organization.
- A clear definition of what constitutes a capital improvement project.2
- Establishment of a capital improvement program review committee and identification of members (for example, the finance officer or budget officer, representatives from planning, engineering, and project management, and, as deemed appropriate, operations departments most affected by capital plans, along with a description of the responsibilities of the committee and its members.
- A description of the role of the public and other external stakeholders in the process. (The level and type of public participation should be consistent with community expectations and past experiences.)
- Identification of how decisions will be made in the capital planning process including a structured process for prioritizing need and allocating limited resources
- A requirement that the planning process includes an assessment of the governments fiscal capacity so that the final capital plan is based on what can realistically be funded by the government rather than being simply a wish list of unfunded needs.
- A procedure for accumulating necessary capital reserves for both new and replacement purchases.
- A policy for linking funding strategies with useful life of the asset including identifying when debt can be issued and any restrictions on the length of debt.3
- A requirement that a multi-year capital improvement plan be developed and that it include long term financing considerations and strategies.
- A process for funding to ensure that capital project funding is consistent with legal requirements regarding full funding, multi-year funding, or phased approaches to funding.
- A requirement that the plan include significant capital maintenance projects.
- Provisions for monitoring and oversight of the CIP program, including reporting requirements and how to handle changes and amendments to the plan.
1 See GFOA Best Practives on capital planning. (Multi-Year Capital Planning (2006) and The Role of Master Plans in Capital Improvement Planning (2008)
2 See GFOAs Best Practice, Establishing Appropriate Capitalization Thresholds for Capital Assets
3 Capital planning policies should be consistent with or reference an organizations debt policies
- GFOA Best Practice, Asset Maintenance and Replacement, 2010
- GFOA Best Practice, Understanding Your Continuing Disclosure Responsibilities, 2010
- GFOA Best Practice, Disaster Preparadness, 2008
- GFOA Best Practice, Multi-Year Capital Planning, 2006
- GFOA Best Practice, Establishing Appropriate Capitalization Thresholds for Capital Assets, 2006