Mayors, City Leaders Talk Infrastructure, Integrated Planning at U.S. Conference of Mayors? 83rd Winter Meeting

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)Roughly 300 mayors from around the country recently attended the Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Held Jan. 20-23, the Winter Meeting involved some interesting sessions and presentations.

The opening day of the Winter Meeting commenced with an orientation breakfast for new mayors. There were more than 60 total mayors in attendance. There was a lot of talk about the President?s State of the Union address that was delivered the evening before. Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., who currently serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, noted that ?the nation?s mayors are pleased that President Obama embraces proposals that make cities strong and grow local economies?The President?s proposals to help working families by making new investments in infrastructure are all issues that underscore the work of the Mayors? Cities of Opportunity Task Force.??? ?

Opening sessions involved a number of taskforce meetings including the Small Business Task Force and the Council on Metro Economics and the new American city. Other committee meetings involved the Innovation and Best Practice Forum for Youth Employment, and the much-anticipated and well-attended Mayors Water Council. ?

The Mayors Water Council meeting involved presentations focused on water and sewer utility efficiency and upgrade, municipal progress when it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, the implementation of EPA?s Integrated Planning Framework and local government affordability when it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure.

As Indianapolis mayor and current co-chair of the Water Council Greg Ballard noted, ?It?s encouraging to see so many cities across the U.S. working to address critical issues related to water supply and water quality. Progress toward better water resource management and identifying cost effective ways to achieve cleaner, healthier water is vital to quality of life and economic development.?

Guest presentations were also delivered by CEOs and senior directors from Veolia Water North America, Fathom and the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC).

The Mayors Water Council also included reports delivered by a number of mayors from the Council focused on the issue of local government affordability and the implementation of the EPA?s Integrated Planning Framework.

?U.S. Conference of Mayors meetings/sessions are valuable since they allow mayors to share best practices and provides an opportunity for us to talk directly to the Washington policy makers,? said Mayor John Marchand of Livermore, Calif., who was a water quality professional before being elected mayor. ?For example, last year, a mayor brought up a water quality problem during the Mayors? Water Task Force meeting. With my experience as a water quality chemist, I was able to provide a no-cost solution. As mayors, we can all benefit from this type of networking.?

Immediately following the conclusion of the Mayors Water Council meeting, there was a session focused on mayors? response to local impacts of water mandates. It was spearheaded by Mayor David Berger from Lima, Ohio, along with Akron, Ohio Mayor Don Plusquellic and Monrovia, Calif. Mayor Mary Ann Lutz.

?The U.S. Conference of Mayors allows mayors from all over the country and cities of all sizes to discuss common concerns, to explore solutions, and to work together to create changes from within,? said Mayor Lutz of Monrovia. ?The Mayors Water Council has experienced this first hand over the last few years. Mayors have collaborated together with U.S. EPA and federal legislators to address some concerns and complications brought by regulations outlined within the Clean Water Act.?

The opening plenary luncheon involved presentations from Mayor Johnson of Sacramento? as well as an executive vice president from Wells Fargo who spearheads home lending.

The afternoon sessions of the first day of the Winter Meeting involved a committee meeting of community development and housing, energy committee, jobs committee, energy independence and climate protection taskforce, mayors and police force taskforce, and the women mayors? task force. It is worth noting that the Secretary of HUD, Julian Castro, participated in the community development committee meeting, the Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz participated in the energy committee meeting and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) participated in the energy independence and climate protection taskforce. The day concluded with a reception that sought to honor women mayors.

The second full day of the Winter Meeting opened with a plenary breakfast program that included presentations from Target Corp., Walgreens, the Police Commissioner of Philadelphia and the Mayor of Columbia, S.C. The plenary session also involved a notable presentation from the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, . Rep. Shuster noted the importance of designing a five- to six-year bill focusing on infrastructure planning. According to Rep. Shuster, ?cities and states need to be allocated the authority to move infrastructure projects forward faster.?

The luncheon program on day two included a presentation by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden noted that it was important to address the infrastructure needs of the country, and specifically, the country needs to modernize and expand its infrastructure in order to enhance communities and attract additional companies to locate in a select region of the country. The vice president also noted that there is a need to design and develop different funding options to pay for the infrastructure needs of municipalities since 100 percent federal grant financing is in the past. He re-emphasized the importance for federal agencies to leverage private sector capital, innovation and expertise to improve the nation?s infrastructure. The vice president concluded his remarks by reinforcing the importance of infrastructure investment as part of the economic mission of the country.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Environment Committee is spearheaded by the Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton. Its membership includes mayors from Rochester Hills, Mich., Chicopee, Mass., Fairfield, Conn., Lexington, Ky. Queen Creek, Ariz., Sunrise, Fla., and Santa Barbara, Calif. ?

The Environment Committee meeting involved guest presentations from Acting Deputy Administrator of the EPA Stan Meiburg and Bob Perciasepe, President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and former Acting Deputy Administrator of EPA. The various presentations addressed municipal solid waste issues, the use of natural infrastructure as a complement to grey infrastructure, the impact of climate change on local municipalities around the country, the role of the EPA Climate Action Plan, the role of energy efficiency, the role of a Water Infrastructure Resiliency Center, the role of green infrastructure and the need to develop water infrastructure financing options. According Perciasepe, leadership can be taken by cities to employ the EPA?s Climate Action Plan.? ?

The second day concluded with separate meetings of Republican and Democratic Mayors. The Republican Mayors meeting and reception included a presentation from U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) who serves as Chairman of the House Rules Committee. According to the Congressman, investment in infrastructure is important for ongoing development of states and their communities/municipalities. Rep. Sessions noted that ?it is critical that we give more power and resources back to the states and individuals and get the federal government out of the way by reducing unnecessary bureaucratic red tape.?

The plenary session on the final day of the Winter Meeting involved a panel of distinguished speakers who are current members of the Obama administration and all former mayors. Participating on this panel were: HUD Secretary Castro, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House Jerry Abramson.

Collectively, these individuals noted the need for federal agencies to better work with each other and with the US cities/ municipalities around the country. They also noted that federal agencies, states and cities need to better embrace the private sector when it comes to the potential of accessing capital for infrastructure investment. After all, it is importance that cities in the 21st century become more livable. Infrastructure investment and renewal via both public and private funding sources will contribute to achieving this goal.
According to Secretary Castro, ?There is strong interest by the White House to better understand what is happening at the local level.? Secretary Foxx added that the United States currently under-invests in infrastructure.? Secretary Vilsack also emphasized the importance of community development in the 21st century.

It is worth noting that the plenary session on the final day also involved a presentation by the Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, who will be involved in a new Cities of Opportunity Task Force that the U.S. Conference of Mayors is formulating. ?

According to De Blasio, U.S. cities and Congress need to better work together, adding that it is easier to work with those federal officials that used to be mayors since they better understand the workings of a city or community. At the end of the day, mayors around the country need to better address the challenges facing their communities and cities, including infrastructure, education, job security, income inequality, he said.
Much was accomplished at the 2015 Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. However, only time will tell how some of the issues will continue to be addressed at the state and municipal level, as well as the federal government level like infrastructure renewal and expansion, including water, wastewater and sanitation infrastructure services.
Stay tuned.

Kathy Shandling is executive director of the International Private Water Association (IPWA) and a frequent contributor to UIM.?

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