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My friend Joe Minicozzi and I are working with the city of Lafayette to develop a real-time financial analysis tool that will allow public officials -- as well as the general public -- to visualize the ongoing financial implications of their development pattern. The g oal is to give them the tools to make some really informed decisions across many different departments. It is an exciting project in a very exciting place.

I've long recommended that all cities have a full accounting of their assets and liabilities (Rational Response #2) as a prerequisite to making any capital spending decision, yet I understand that such an undertaking is not simple and can't be done overnight.

In my work with Lafayette, I had shared with me a nice supplementary approach from the city of Suwanee, Georgia, that can be used while a full accounting is being done. It is a scoring matrix that does a rough -- but very smart -- scoring in a true Strong Towns spirit. 

For example, if a project decreases operating and maintenance costs, it scores a 10. If it causes a "very large increase in operating costs and/or personnel requirements," then is scores a negative 8. The approach prioritizes maintaining existing facilities (up to 15 points) and gives no points to new stuff. It even distinguishes between something that serves the entire community (10 points) versus something that benefits only a few (2 points).

Obviously the way one would ponder an actual project would have a huge impact on how good this results of this system would be. For example, I've seen engineers and public works officials argue that maintaining four lanes is easier than two because of how you plow the snow. Short of that kind of craziness -- cities that want to buy into that kind of logic are not going to benefit from deep analysis anyway -- I think it is a good back-of-the-envelope kind of approach.

If you are looking for a baby step, this is a pretty good one. You can find Suwanee's entire budget document here. The scoring matrix is on page 284.

I'm still in Austin today, this time sharing our Transportation in the Next American City presentation with a sold-out venue of nearly 300 people. There is a lot of hunger for our message. Help us better meet the demand by becoming a member today. We're still pushing to have 800 members by the end of the year. Make a difference today and become one of them.