A CIP is a planning tool. Under the law, “[t]he sole purpose and effect of the capital improvements program shall be to aid the mayor or selectmen and the budget committee in their consideration of the annual budget.” RSA 674:5. The final CIP must be submitted to the governing body and the budget committee “for consideration as part of the annual budget.” RSA 674:8. The projects identified in the CIP are not mandatory; the CIP is simply a set of recommendations and an outline for achieving them. However, the list of reasons above shows that a CIP goes a long way toward helping that budget meet the real needs of the community at a time, in a way, and for a price that makes sense.
The overall purpose is to help communities make good planning choices for the future based on goals and resources. In doing so, the CIP integrates many other facets of local government. The CIP is tied to the goals of the master plan. It puts the operating budget and the capital budget in perspective. A good CIP is based on the existing fixed asset inventory and presents a replacement and renewal schedule that makes sense. It also requires cooperation among department heads, the governing body, town/city manager, and planning officials. A capital improvements program acts as a bridge between the planning process and the budget process. With all of the information gathered during the CIP process, municipal officials can help voters make informed decisions about appropriations and policies.
Typically, capital improvements will include infrastructure projects, land acquisition, buildings, or engineering studies for any of those projects, and may include vehicles or highway maintenance equipment in some municipalities. One useful starting point is the list of improvements for which impact fees may be assessed; the list in RSA 674:21, V is a good place to look for ideas1.