Planning and Finance Series: Integrating perspectives from planners, engineers and finance officials

by Patrick L. Dugan, Everett, Washington

Successful teamwork requires integrating different perspectives into one approach. This is especially true in effective management of community development.  Both of my professions of planning and public finance have critical roles to play in community development; yet, each profession tends to have a very different understanding of the role local government plays in influencing how a community develops. This article will, albeit somewhat simplistically, attempt to illustrate these divergent views and suggest a paradigm for integrating them.  While obviously the actual views of real planners, engineers, and finance officials are more complex than as simply illustrated here, I hope that my thumbnail portrayal of views will provide some food for thought.

Planner’s view: 

Figure 1 illustrates how a typical planner might view the relationship between planning, public facilities, and finance in how a community develops. As illustrated, a planner begins by developing a comprehensive plan that prescribes where various uses are planned to be developed and at what intensities. The planner then anticipates that this plan would be used by engineers to design public facilities and services to support the development plan. Finally someone, probably in the finance department, would figure out how to pay for those facilities and services. Depending on the particular planner (and state law regarding planning), the planner may, or may not, be significantly involved in the planning of facilities. Typically, a planner is only rarely involved in identifying how to finance the facilities. What is important to the planner is that the land use plan, the community’s vision for its future, drives the rest of the process.

Engineer’s view: 

It worth noting that engineers have a similar view of the process except that, traditionally, engineers have had less faith in planning and considered the process (Figure 2) to be driven by a forecast of the future, which may or may not reflect the adopted land use plan. In more enlightened governments (and in some states where the law requires it), the planner’s view and the engineer’s view may be melded together in recognition that effective planning involves a delicate balance between prediction and prescription.

Finance official’s view: 

A typical finance official has a somewhat radically different view. He or she is likely to see the process in reverse, as illustrated on Figure 3. To a typical finance director, the amount of money available drives the amount of facilities that will be built and this in turn determines when, where, and how much development will occur. Many finance officials are also aware that various financial policies can influence not only how much money will be available for capital facilities but also when and where those facilities will be built.

Balanced view: 

As a planner and finance official, as well as having worked in a large public works department, I know that all three views have their value and merit in both understanding how the community development process works and how it can be managed. A more effective paradigm for thinking about the community development process is that these three aspects of the community development process are interrelated, and none of the three operates in a vacuum, independently from each other, as illustrated in Figure 4. The amount, as well as the timing and location, of new development will generate revenues that increase the amount of public facilities that can be financed and hence how much development can be supported. Similarly, the level of service that is used to plan public facilities will both influence how much money will be needed and, in turn, how much development can be supported. The higher the level of service, the more money needed, and the less facility that can be supported. In addition, land use development affects the level of service since high quality new development requires higher levels of service.


If planners and finance officials do not integrate their planning approaches, the planning objectives of each will be frustrated. Even the best laid land use plans will not be implemented if the necessary facilities to support it are not financed by the finance program of the jurisdiction.

Effective management of the community development process requires an understanding and integration of the interrelationships between prescribing a land use plan, predicting future demand, designing and building public facilities, and financing those facilities. This requires synthesizing the perspectives and skills of all of the professions involved in community development into a consistent program. It should be noted that this involves not only the skills of planners, civil engineers, and public finance officials, but also others in the municipal management team including, fire officials, parks and recreation staff, police, and others.

Patrick L. Dugan has been a city planning director and a city finance director. During the last 30 years, he has held various financial and planning positions in cities, counties, and regional agencies in three states. Now a private consultant in Washington, he can be reached at





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