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A residential neighborhood in Carlsbad. The city is shifting its infrastructure funding priorities to focus on maintenance and shovel-ready projects. File photo
A residential neighborhood in Carlsbad. The city is shifting its infrastructure funding priorities to focus on maintenance and shovel-ready projects. File photo
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Carlsbad prioritizes shovel-ready projects as city nears buildout

CARLSBAD — As the city approaches buildout, the Carlsbad City Council is taking a new approach to funding long-term infrastructure projects.

Carlsbad has experienced tremendous growth over the past three decades, but growth is slowing due to fewer acres of developable land and, consequently, less revenue from developer fees. 

This has led city staff to consider freeing up money for a growing list of capital improvement projects — some of which are at least 15 years from completion — to prioritize shovel-ready and more immediately necessary maintenance and repair plans.

“We are transitioning from a growth city to one focused on maintenance,” City Manager Scott Chadwick said at the May 7 council meeting. “The needs of our community are changing.”

Capital improvement projects are often costly and take considerable time to finish. Beginning in Fiscal Year 2024-2025, the city budget will only account for projects planned for the next five years.

While the longer-term projects will remain on city to-do lists, funding will not be immediately set aside. Instead, the budget will feature a 15-year forecast, demonstrating how much money the city expects to have for those future projects.

Projects will be grouped into four categories: strategic plan, critical needs, maintenance, and closeout. 

The budget will no longer account for the entire project cost, and the council will be asked to consider appropriating money phase by phase. This will allow city staff to give accurate, up-to-date information on construction costs rather than relying on out-of-date estimates from years ago.

“Costs can be volatile,” Chadwick said. “We’re not spending less; it just means we’re requesting funds at different times.”

According to staff, the “just in time” capital improvement approach also makes the entire process more transparent because it will require staff to return to the council more frequently to request funding.

“This is a good move,” said Councilmember Carolyn Luna. “It affords us flexibility.”

Mayor Keith Blackburn agreed it was a good idea; however, he asked staff to explain the change more clearly at future council meetings. 

Staff is expected to return at least three more times to discuss the city’s budget before the City Council gives its final approval at 5 p.m. on June 18. After a preliminary budget presentation at 5 p.m. on May 21, a community budget workshop will be held at 6 p.m. on May 23.

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