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Who pays for infrastructure?

Simply put: We do.

Many of America’s suburbs were built using federal money during the economic boom after World War II. As a result, city managers often behaved as though core infrastructure — water and sewer lines, the electric grid, roads — were free. But we always end up paying, one way or another, and as federal support for local infrastructure has become less reliable, only materializing in stimulus bills to address recessions, the cost has fallen squarely on local citizens.

Often we see development proposals that involve investments in new infrastructure. We should always question whether a developer is “gifting” us something, or actually putting us on the hook to pay for the maintenance and eventual replacement of that infrastructure. After all, once a new office or a new residential development is in use, are we going to allow the roads and water lines that serve it to collapse? We need to ask whether the tax revenue that will come from this development — through direct property taxes, and through sales and other taxes from activity associated with the development — will actually pay for future costs. If not, even if the developer foots the bill for the initial build-out of services, it’s not a winner for the city.

This is not to say we shouldn’t build things. The good news is that we know how to build productive places that can pay for what they actually need — cities have grown organically, through the incremental contributions of individual citizens, for millennia. We need to encourage development that leverages the infrastructure we already have. Big investments should focus on maintaining the productivity of our centers of business and commerce. Smaller investments should serve to maintain other areas and enable incremental growth, so those areas become more financially sound over time.

If elected, I will try to ensure that our budgeting process and development decisions consistently make our town more resilient.


Auros Harman for San Bruno Council
District 4 2022 FPPC # 1449270
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