4 Tips for Aligning Capital Planning Across the Organization

May 24, 2016 – Charlie Francis


Click here to see a list of all editions of the Finance Officer’s Desk column.

This is the third week in our series highlighting some best and promising practices for each of the following phases of Capital Improvement Planning:

  • Phase I – Identification of capital and maintenance expenditures
  • Phase II – Capital planning alignment
  • Phase III – Capital budgeting development and execution
  • Phase IV – Capital financing
  • Phase V – Asset management

In the inaugural blog we discussed the following questions:

  • What is a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)?
  • What are the benefits of developing a Capital Improvement Plan?
  • What are the features of a Capital Improvement Plan?
  • What is the process in developing a Capital Improvement Plan?

In the second edition, we covered the following four tips for Phase I:

  • Have a written definition of what constitutes a capital project
  • Develop definitions for maintenance expenditures and designate maintenance funding sources
  • Identify which capital projects are not included in the CIP
  • Develop a comprehensive inventory and infrastructure rating system

Phase II – Capital Improvement Planning Alignment

Capital Improvement Planning should enable linkages between annual budgets and long-term infrastructure plans by institutionalizing collaboration between involved departments. This strengthens coordination of all elements of Capital Improvement Planning: multi-year planning, forecasting, financial decision-making, extensive project management, financial accounting, budgeting and reporting, and final audits. The tips below help improve this collaboration.

1. Identify organizational responsibilities and interdependencies. Capital Improvement Planning is complex, especially when projects span more than one fiscal year. There are many interdependencies between Planning, Finance, and Engineering/Public Works. Recognizing these during the CIP process will help maintain cross-departmental relationships throughout the execution phases.

2. Maintain centralized oversight of capital projects. There may or may not be a central department responsible for the entire process; however, it’s a good business practice to establish a central committee comprised of the key managers from departments with inter-dependencies. This central committee would agree on planning, management, and reporting standards for all projects in the Capital Improvement Plan.

3. Develop an internal plan to inform and involve elected officials in the capital improvement planning process. Elected officials really care about capital projects – especially those in their legislative districts! With contemporary transparency and reporting platforms like OpenGov, elected officials and citizens can track progress within each milestone of the Capital Improvement Planning process. The capital project database can be geo-coded to online maps, containing links to plans and project descriptions. Elected officials can toggle between each project, project groupings, and funding sources.


These tools are especially helpful for elected body meetings that are noticed and open to the public. Visualizing capital projects also lends credibility to project requests and helps mitigate political influences in capital spending decisions.

4. Inform and update the long-term financial plan with the CIP’s future operating budget impacts. You can ensure the integrity of your entity’s fiscal structural balance by implementing mechanisms that populate future operating budgets with current capital projects’ impact on operating costs and revenues.

Next week we will cover best practices and tips for project selection, cost estimation, and tracking.


Charlie Francis is a municipal finance expert. He has more than forty years of local government financial management experience in both the public and private sector, including twenty years of experience as a Chief Financial Officer. Most recently, he served as the Director of Administrative Services and Treasurer for the City of Sausalito where he earned the unofficial title of “OpenGov super user”. He has also served as a finance manager for the Town of Colma, CA and as CFO and acting City Manager for the Cities of Indian Wells, CA and Tracy, CA.

Questions or comments? Email Charlie at cfrancis@opengov.com.