REDLANDS -- For decades, the city has been floating on the bare minimum, avoiding large investments to stabilize city finances. Now, officials say infrastructure -- particularly flood control -- is in need of a life vest.

City Manager N. Enrique Martinez outlined prioritized investments in a memo and discussed the topic on Thursday.

Flood control is measured by a numbered year event. For example, a 100-year flood has a 1 percent possibility of occurring each year and is much more destructive than a 10-year flood, which has an average chance-of-happening once per decade.

"It's incumbent on us to plan for a 100-year flood," Martinez said. "If we don't, downtown will be flooded."

Right now Redlands has the capacity to withstand a 13-year flood, according to Martinez, who wants the city to invest millions into a system upgrade.

He said he wasn't sure of the exact ratings of surrounding cities, but offered this: "I'd be embarrassed to tell someone we have a 13."

Flood-control ratings flow beyond public safety and into economics.

The lower the flood rating, the greater the cost of flood insurance. Also, entrepreneurs must answer a key question when applying for a business loan: Will the building be located on a flood plain? If it's in downtown Redlands, the answer is yes.

A standard flood would begin in the mountains to the east and rush toward town. There is a basin (the Opal Basin) east of town that, if all goes according to plan, would capture the water, force the liquid into pipes running below the city and pump it out on lower elevations to the west.

There is no documentation of the aforementioned system being maintained in the past 30 years, Martinez said.

Consequently, a contractor hired by the city has identified five areas in need of repairs, each costing about $100,000, Martinez added.

A new flood control master plan is being worked on by an outside consultant. The report is expected to be completed in February and presented to City Council.

During discussions leading to the adoption of the 2013-14 fiscal year budget, council members expressed the need for capital improvements.

More recently, at Wednesday's state of the community luncheon, Mayor Pete Aguilar addressed the problem.

"We're an old city, and we have old infrastructure," he said.

Martinez said the elder systems' performance woes are amplified by neglected maintenance.

"Fifteen to 18 years ago, when the city was able to commit to infrastructure improvements, it appears that little to no consideration was given to the ongoing maintenance and capital needs, including staff, materials and periodic replacement necessary to maintain the infrastructure," he wrote in the memo distributed to council members and department heads.

Other overlooked expenses, according to Martinez, are sidewalks, trees, parks and the A.K. Smiley Public Library.

A city staff survey estimated necessary pedestrian improvements -- sidewalks and handicap ramps -- to cost $30.8 million.

The foreseen flood control improvement costs are based on a 1975 assessment. An estimate to improve the entire city's flood control based on the dated report would be $79 million.

Staff recommends focusing only on the downtown area, which would cost about $47 million, according to the memo. The updated flood control plan to be released in February should contain more accurate estimates. The city does not have enough cash to write a check for these expenses. Ideas are being floated to pay for these projects. See editions of the Daily Facts next week.