Capital Facilities Planning
This page provides information about capital facilities planning for cities and counties in Washington State, including statutes and regulations, recommended resources, and sample plans and policies.
The purpose of capital facilities planning is to:
- Provide adequate public facilities to serve existing and new development
- Reduce the cost of serving new development with public facilities
- Ensure that these facilities will be in place when development occurs
The capital facilities plan contains a list of capital projects with estimated costs and proposed methods of financing. They should be updated on a regular basis (ideally, annually). A "capital facility" is usually defined as having an established minimum dollar value (for example, $25,000 for the SeaTac Comprehensive Plan’s Capital Facilities Element) and a useful life of greater than five years. Public expenditures for facilities and other physical items not meeting those two criteria usually will be categorized as replacement and maintenance expenditures. For example, replacement of a fire engine would be a capital facility, while replacement of a fire hose would typically be viewed as a replacement item.
The Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) requires jurisdictions fully planning under the GMA to have a capital facilities plan element within their comprehensive plans, which includes per RCW 36.70A.070(3):
- An inventory of existing capital facilities owned by public entities, showing the locations and capacities of the capital facilities;
- A forecast of the future needs for such capital facilities;
- The proposed locations and capacities of expanded or new capital facilities;
- At least a six-year plan that will finance such capital facilities within projected funding capacities and clearly identifies sources of public money for such purposes; and
- A requirement to reassess the land use element if probable funding falls short of meeting existing needs and to ensure that the land use element, capital facilities plan element, and financing plan within the capital facilities plan element are coordinated and consistent.
Sometimes, a capital facilities element (CFE) will include a broader list of capital projects anticipated to be needed over the comprehensive plan’s entire planning horizon (usually 20 years) (RCW 36.70A.070(3)). The CFE is required before a jurisdiction can impose GMA impact fees. Jurisdictions are required to have a capital facilities plan before imposing certain taxes, such as the real estate excise tax and to qualify for state funding for capital facilities. As part of the requirement to develop a comprehensive plan, jurisdictions are required to establish level-of-service standards (LOS) for arterials, transit service, and other facilities. To maintain concurrency means that adequate public facilities are in place to serve new development as it occurs or within a specified time period. For more information, see MRSC’s page on Concurrency.
The capital facilities plan is one tool to help implement the land use element of the comprehensive plan, and these two elements, including the financing plan within the capital facilities element, must be coordinated and consistent. The GMA also requires a separate transportation element, which may include a separate list of transportation-related capital projects, and must also be coordinated and consistent with all other comprehensive plan elements.
Statutes and Administrative Regulations
Growth Management Act
- RCW 36.70A.070(3) – Capital facilities is one of the mandatory elements of comprehensive plan, Growth Management Act (also see (6)(B) and (C) regarding level of service and transportation)
- RCW 36.70A.020 – Planning goals (1) and (12)
- RCW 36.70A.030(12) – Public facilities definition
- WAC 365-196-415 – Capital facilities element
Other State Statutes
- RCW 58.17.110(2) – Consideration of public facilities for a subdivision and conditions for approval
- RCW 82.02.050(4) – Requires capital facilities plan prior to imposition of GMA impact fees to finance system improvements related to the new development
- RCW 82.46.035(5)(b) – "Capital project" definition, for real estate excise tax
General Resources on Capital Facility Planning
The following provide background and general information regarding capital facility planning.
- Washington State Department of Commerce: Capital Facilities Planning page
- Planning Association of Washington (PAW): Capital Facilities Planning - Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (2014) – Presentation slides from April 2014 PAW Conference by Joyce Phillips, Lynn Kohn, and Mike Bailey
- Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Best Practices:
- Capital Planning Policies – Recommends capital planning policies that address local government services, structure, and the external environment
- Multi-Year Capital Planning – Summary of basic elements of multi-year capital planning
- Puget Sound Regional Council: Funding for Local Government Infrastructure (2009)
Examples of Capital Budget Policies
The following are general capital budget and capital improvement program policies found in budget documents.
- Auburn Budget Policies (2021-22 Biennial Budget)
- Mercer Island Capital Improvement Program (2021-22 Biennial Budget, p.155)
- Tacoma Summary of Financial Policies (2021-22 Operating & Capital Budget, p.187)
- Tukwila Capital Improvement Program (2021-22 Biennial Budget, p. 359)
For additional examples, see MRSC's Financial Policies Tool Kit.
Examples of Capital Facilities Plans
Some of these capital facilities elements and plans have been recommended as good examples in the past by Growth Management Services at the Washington State Department of Commerce. These are noted with an asterisk (*).
- Cheney 2020-2025 Capital Facilities Plan (2020)
- Tacoma Capital Facilities Plan 2021-26
- Liberty Lake 2021-26 Adopted Capital Facilities Plan (2020)
- Olympia Capital Facilities Plan - 2020-2025 Financial Plan * (2019)
- Thurston County Plan Ch. 6 - Capital Facilities Plan * (2020) – Includes latest CFP update