Mayor Geno R. Martini
Sparks City Hall
March 2, 2009, 11 a.m.
Good morning, and welcome to Sparks and my fourth state-of-the-city address.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge our City Council, along with some of the people who help us get things done:
I want to point out that our City Council has had to make some difficult choices in the last few years. They have been steadfast in their commitment to Sparks, and I appreciate that. Each has embraced their job with a lot of heart and conviction when it comes to moving our city forward.
I also want to thank United States Senator Harry Reid, Senator John Ensign, and Congressman Dean Heller for their support to ensure Sparks remains front and center for opportunities for federal appropriations. And rest assured we will be aggressively working with them to see Sparks receives some federal dollars from the recently enacted stimulus package.
I want to thank our municipal court judges and their team who served nearly 72,000 people last year at the Sparks Municipal Court. And our City Attorney and his team who expect just under 4,000 criminal cases this year, not including civil cases. Both departments continue to do far more work, with less staff. I appreciate their commitment and perseverance to our City.
I also want to pay a special recognition to the city’s Human Resources team who has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Whether is has been negotiating labor agreements or supporting our departments with the downsizing that has taken place, Chris Syverson and her team have risen to the occasion by spending countless hours helping to streamline and improve the efficiency in our city’s organization.
I am going to begin by addressing the budget crisis that our city, state, and region are facing, mostly caused by the collapse of the housing market, followed by the failure of major banks and creditors. In Washoe County alone, by the end of last year, one out of every 134 homes was somewhere in the foreclosure process. Unemployment in our state is at record highs, more than nine percent, and tourism in the state is down sharply.
Precipitated by last year’s economic downturn, this year will not be without some serious fiscal concerns. It will be a great year if we hit an economic bottom. While nobody knows for sure, most experts are forecasting a recovery in 2010, and even then, a slow one. I believe that our state’s economy will recover behind the national economy.
As most of you know, we have already made dramatic reductions to our operating budget.
Whether you manage a household budget, a business, or a city government, you can only purchase the goods and services you can afford. When times get tough, we all cut back on less important items and services, but we still need to provide for basic needs. This is where we find ourselves today.
So far this fiscal year, we have had to reduce the city’s budget by $8 million. Over the last several months, we have heard and read about our service reductions, along with many other agencies at all levels of government. I don’t want to dwell on the specifics, but I do want to highlight what we have done to stabilize our financial situation.
Since 2007, we have made incremental reductions to city programs and services, some of which have been eliminated entirely. We looked across the board to keep our budget balanced, starting with offering early retirement and voluntary separation programs for our employees. Nearly all of our employees no longer receive cost of living adjustments, and many have voluntarily reduced their pay.
Our fire department has agreed to reduce its overtime expenditures by $500,000. I want to thank Chief Flock and his department for their dedication to our city.
When the economy takes a nosedive, smart organizations get smarter, and Sparks is no exception.
When it makes sense, we have found innovative ways to reduce costs such as outsourcing some services thus saving thousands of dollars. We’ve improved our interlocal agreements such as partnering with the RTC to use two of their snowplows during heavy snow conditions. Our sustainability committee continues to identify and work on ways to cut costs and use green technology and energy efficiency programs for a number of city services, and at city facilities.
Our police department, while still understaffed, has implemented a crime fighting philosophy known as COMSTAT. The program, initiated one year ago, uses crime statistics to identify trends and patterns of crime at early onset. This allows the police department to rapidly assign resources to specific crime trends, thereby significantly reducing the number of potential victims. The result has been a significant reduction in calls for service and cases taken, and an increase in numbers of arrests in 2008 over 2007. I applaud Chief Asher and our police department's efforts for thinking outside the box during these difficult times.
Our parks and recreation department has worked tirelessly to secure grant funding and community support for a number of special programs that represent an important part of our livelihood here in Sparks. Recently, the Nell J. Redfield Foundation issued a $31,000 grant for the Department to continue the Adapted Aquatics Program for adults with disabilities, and the Playground Program for at-risk youth, and a $50,000 dollar grant from the E.L. Cord Foundation to continue the Leisure Without Limits Program for people with disabilities. Had the grant funding not been received, these programs likely would have been discontinued.
I congratulate and thank the Parks and Recreation Department, and all of the city’s departments that have taken necessary steps to maintain our services despite these troubled times.
I must point out too, that many of our employees have taken voluntarily pay reductions. These and countless other cost saving measures have been enacted. I want to thank our City Manager and his team for many of these innovative savings, and well as sacrifices, both professional and personal, that have been made to date.
I am constantly amazed at the dedication and work ethic of our public employees. Our citizens need to know that they are well served. We have a great team in place across the board.
And in terms of our fiscal planning, it is worth pointing out that we received the city’s first Distinguished Budget Presentation Award last year. I want to congratulate Tom Minton and the Finance team for their extraordinary work this year, particularly in light of their efforts on working and re-working the budget situation throughout the year.
But the fact of the matter is, most of our revenue is generated from economic growth, and at present, there is virtually no growth.
At this time, our economy remains unstable, and some of our key revenue sources are in decline. Sales tax, which provides 31 percent of our total revenues, is projected to fall by nearly 20 percent by the end of this fiscal year as compared to last year.
We are holding the line with the cuts we have made in order to be fiscally stable for the next fiscal year, 2009-2010.
The budget for that year is facing considerable challenges, including possible actions taken by the State of Nevada in the current legislative session. The state could be looking for revenues from local governments to meet the challenge of its budget shortfall of more than $2 billion.
I believe our state government must find additional revenue sources, but must not burden local governments like Sparks, or our educational institutions. To do so, would cripple the fundamental foundations of our government, the services we provide, and would force educated members of our workforce to leave the state in search of greater opportunities.
With budget reductions, has come the regrettable task of letting go 58 dedicated employees since March 2008. As a result, our existing workforce in every city department is smaller and leaner than one year ago.
When taking into account attrition and early retirement programs, along with the difficult task of layoffs, our workforce is down 20 percent from the last time I delivered this speech. Each staff member has increased their workload, and is doing far more with far less.
And while we have made significant reductions to our budget, we can expect more to come in the months ahead.
I am making a plea to all our citizens to please understand if it takes a little while longer to repair our streets, or approve building plans and building inspections, or cut the grass and trim the landscaping at our parks.
These are not easy times. They are, in fact, unprecedented times in the modern-day history of our state and nation. We need your help. If you care about Sparks, if you care about the future of your city, we need your input, and you must get involved.
I am asking our residents to ask themselves, “What can I do for my city?”
Our police are always looking for a few good citizens in their volunteer program. Our volunteers perform a valuable service in a variety of tasks such as Disabled Parking Enforcement, patrolling the Sparks Marina & Downtown Victorian Square, senior citizen checks, traffic surveys, and a variety of administrative tasks.
Speaking of police, we continue to face a shortage of police officers. An average community our size has a ratio of 1.8 police officers per thousand residents. Sparks is at 1.27 officers per thousand. We need 54 new police officers today. This continues to present a challenge.
If you experience a property crime, please be patient for a police response.
Our city is a safe place to live, but we always should continue to recognize and accept our personal roles in crime prevention. Our residents need to take responsibility for their neighborhoods and be aware of who belongs and who does not. Start a Neighborhood Watch program to report suspicious activity as it is taking place. These kinds of things greatly improve the chances of catching people involved in crime.
We all need to help maintain our community appearance. Pick up litter and trash on our roadways and in our neighborhoods, and report abandoned shopping carts. Graffiti remains a problem. It is imperative that our citizens work together to clean up graffiti on private property. I encourage civic and volunteer groups to help us tackle this problem.
Keep sidewalks clear of trash, debris, and tree limbs, and help your senior neighbors shovel snow off the sidewalks and out of gutters to prevent flooding.
Because of cut backs in our Parks and Recreation Department such as reducing the level of park maintenance, become involved with Adopt-A-Park, and Partners-in-Parks and Recreation – both programs go a long way in helping to maintain and improve parks while creating and supporting new recreational programs. Adopting-A-Road program is also a good avenue to maintain the appearance of our city.
You can become involved in any of these programs by contacting me, or any member of our City Council or management staff.
Just a few weeks ago, we unveiled a new brand identity for the City of Sparks. The proposed brand “Nevada’s Festival City” gives us a distinct marketing message to promote to visitors and prospective residents and businesses. After thorough research and citizen input, it is no secret that Sparks has the potential to be the premier city in Nevada where there is always something happening. Time and time again, residents in the Truckee Meadows point to the special events that make Sparks unique. Nearly one million people attend our special events annually. The brand, should it be adopted, will provide the marketing infrastructure to increase visitors to Sparks over the long term.
Last year, two major events occurred, which I believe have laid the foundation for increased visitors and tourism for years to come.
In April, we opened the Golden Eagle Regional Park & Sports Complex, which became the largest public works project in the City’s history. Few communities across the nation can boast of such a picturesque and beautiful park tucked away in a valley between the foothills. This regional park is the envy of cities across the nation.
And, as one of the largest artificial turf projects in the world, we have conserved a precious resource – water, 42 million gallons in fact. Many softball leagues and tournaments are scheduled to fill the fields at Golden Eagle Regional Park throughout the year, featuring more than 1,200 local teams and 400 out-of-state teams totaling close to 20,000 players.
Additionally, thousands of youth will participate in baseball, football and soccer programs at the sports complex. I have to recognize Parks and Recreation Director Stan Sherer, and Public Works Director Wayne Seidel and their teams for creating a magnificent world-class attraction expected to draw close to one million visitors a year from Northern Nevada, California and beyond.
Last September, we celebrated the opening of Scheels – the world’s largest all-sports store right here in our great city. This massive 295,000 square foot retail experience offers merchandise for just about anything sports related, drawing visitors to our city from throughout the region.
Scheels represents the first phase of the Legends at Sparks Marina, a major destination development that will indeed become a major attraction. We are glad they are here, and wish them continued prosperity. Just a few weeks ago, the latest attraction to the Legends opened, the Louisiana Jazz Kitchen – good stuff! We can expect a major opening with several more retailers and restaurants later this year.
I want to thank Community Development Director Neil Krutz and his department for keeping this project on track. They have worked diligently to ensure plans and inspections take place on time, and have provided invaluable support to the contractors and developer.
And I appreciate the relationship with RED Development who has been a devoted partner in the Legends venture. Their undeterred commitment to create a renowned destination development is a true testament to the future success of our city.
Later this spring, the Truckee River Whitewater Park at Rock Park will be complete and open for recreational use. After five years of planning and convincing the regulatory agencies that this is a positive addition that will preserve the integrity of the river, we will finally have a recreational whitewater experience for people of all ages and abilities.
The whitewater feature at Rock Park will raise the bar for recreation in the Truckee Meadows and bring visitors to Sparks from near and far, and will complement the whitewater venue in downtown Reno. The project will be a wonderful use of the Truckee River, and something our citizens can enjoy for years to come. The park also includes enhancements such as increased parking areas, new shade structures, play structures and landscape improvements.
I also want to point out that through private funding as well as support from the City of Sparks, the Community Assistance Center was completed in downtown Reno.
So yes, there is still good news. Some of which should be reported on in greater depth. Many of us are discouraged, pessimistic, and apprehensive about the future, but we must stay positive and hopeful. We need to convey to our friends and neighbors all the good opportunities our region has to offer.
Lately, much has been reported on the use of Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue Bonds, or STAR Bonds, and I want to add my voice to the discussion. Without this important economic development tool established by the Nevada Legislature beginning in 2003, The Legends would not have been built in Sparks. STAR Bonds provide a mechanism to finance developments that attract visitors, the majority of whom come from out-of-state as determined by the Nevada Commission on Tourism (NCOT).
Legends at Sparks Marina will help solidify Sparks on the map. It is the largest project in Sparks, and certainly the largest project taking place in northern Nevada at the moment.
Legends is a $1.2 billion project that will attract nearly one million visitors annually. Additionally, the project will create in excess of 5,000 jobs. A recent economic impact study showed an $8.3 billion economic impact over a 20-year period and $600 million in taxable sales annually.
While 75 percent of sales taxes generated by the development go toward paying off the STAR bonds that allowed the project to be built, the remaining 25 percent continue to the benefit of public services such as local education, city, county, and state programs. A quarter of new sales tax revenue is clearly better than none. Once the bonds are retired, all of the sales taxes go to public services.
We worked tirelessly with Washoe County, the School District, and other agencies, and all agreed to move forward on financing STAR Bonds to see this project come to fruition.
The fact of the matter is, STAR Bonds are a vital tool that have allowed communities such as Sparks to embark on economic development, ultimately attracting visitors, creating jobs, and enhancing spending. Only now that financial conditions are poor are some suggesting STAR Bonds should be reexamined or terminated. In my view, this is shortsighted.
During a tough economic climate, it is more critical than ever that tools such as STAR Bonds continue to provide enticements for development of projects that supply long-term benefits to our local, state and regional economies.
Later this month, we will be administering our annual public attitude survey. If you receive a call, please take the time to respond. The survey is an important tool for us to gauge how we are doing, and how we can improve.
Make no mistake, we will recover from the economic crisis we are in today. And when we do, we will be better for it.
Once again, I want to thank City Manager Shaun Carey and his team for their hard work and sacrifices.
I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts and generosity of our city team. Our employees care about who they serve, and how they serve. They give generously during the holiday season, whether it is food, clothing or other offerings. Our fire fighters spent time and provided gifts for local children who are threatened with cancer, and our police donate much of their time with underprivileged youth. There are countless stories of the unsung heroes on our city team. I am very proud to be associated with them.
Once again, I must thank our City Council for their dedication to our city, for their hard work, and the tough decisions they have had to make. They too, deserve a great deal of credit for keeping the “sparks” in Sparks.
While the leadership of our state and federal government is essential to fixing the economy, a positive outlook and discussion will help us bring about a faster recovery. Equally important is having a positive attitude about our economic future rather than internalizing the negatives.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little money. Take your family out to dinner, make that purchase you have been postponing, and embrace our community as part of your life. Our city and region are a wonderful place to live. We must all begin to talk and think “prosperity.”
We will recover, growth and development will continue, and our economy will once again thrive.
I appreciate all of you. I enjoy serving as your Mayor, and wish you all prosperity and good health in the days to come.
Thank you for listening today. And don’t forget our website at www.cityofsparks.us
God bless you all, God bless our great city, and God bless America.