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Searching the city's soul
by Sarah Cooper
Mar 01, 2010 | 1579 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini gave his fifth annual State of the City speech Monday in the council chambers.  He noted the accomplishments of the past decade, gave a realistic assessment of the challenges facing the city as well as thanking the employees for their sacrifices.
Tribune/Dan McGee Sparks Mayor Geno Martini gave his fifth annual State of the City speech Monday in the council chambers. He noted the accomplishments of the past decade, gave a realistic assessment of the challenges facing the city as well as thanking the employees for their sacrifices.
SPARKS – As the city stares down the barrel of a $1.7 million cut, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini took to the podium Monday to deliver the State of the City address. The Monday morning speech recommitted Sparks to its branding plan and promised a push against the 2010 Nevada Legislature for changes in local tax structures.

As the city tries to roll out the idea that “It is Happening Here,” Martini is pushing for increased special events.

“The fact is, today, we are known for our events,” Martini said. “Attracting a million people to Victorian Square, our events have created an image of Sparks as a place where it is happening. That is why I think it is imperative that we embrace our new brand concept and move forward with its implementation. … This is a strategy to help position us for a stronger recovery. The fundamental purpose of creating a brand for Sparks comes down to one word: cash.”

Following Martini's words, Sparks special events supervisor Greg von Schottenstein would follow up this week, meeting with a half-marathon event producer and others to bring more event days to the city.

“We are hoping to expand events through what has traditionally been events season,” von Schottenstein said, adding that the eventual goal is to make special events in Sparks run on a 12-month schedule rather than just in the summer.

The half-marathon producer could possibly host the event on Father's Day, if the deal is signed in the coming weeks, he added.

Martini also announced an economic coup to the city's special events. The Sparks Hometowne Farmer's Market will now have a title sponsor: Cullen Dillard and Associates Wealth Management Co. While the final dollar amounts are still in negotiations, von Schottenstein said the company's contribution to the event will be “significant.”

According to Sparks community relations manager Adam Mayberry, the next step for the branding project will be an emphasis on attracting special events, including an economic impact assessment of Sparks' largest events.

The branding project is an effort to “re-brand” Sparks in order to reheat the city's tourism engine. It involves positioning the city as the place where something is “always happening” and includes a new logo, which Martini proudly pointed out during his speech.

Reforming the budget

While Martini spent the first third of his speech talking about branding and special events, the words that followed showed that the mayor was worried about generating revenue.

“During the last three years, we have dealt with unprecedented and serious fiscal challenges,” Martini said. “There has been no population increase, little development and unemployment is hovering around 13 percent or more. No growth, no jobs translates to no dough.”

According to the mayor, Sparks has suffered from 33 consecutive months of declines from taxable sales and 23 months of double-digit declines through November 2009.

He added that property tax revenue, consolidated tax revenue and fees and permits combined are down 6 percent from 2009.

Changes in property assessments and their subsequent property tax decreases will mean another $2.3 million hit to the city's general fund in fiscal year 2010-2011.

“The time has come when local governments, and Sparks is no exception, must undertake some soul searching and identify the core services that are important and required for their citizens,” Martini said. “We must chart a course that helps us establish a more realistic and practical organization with the appropriate resources to provide for essential services and the health and safety of our residents. We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot say yes to every request.”

Monday’s statements on faltering revenues were a concern that will be accompanied by action.

“Our state’s tax structure needs serious reform and now,” Martini said. “We can no longer be dependent on property and sales tax accounting for nearly two-thirds of our operating revenue. The state Legislature needs to stop capping revenue growth for city and county governments and stop imposing unfunded mandates on them.”

Following the address, Martini vowed to make tax structure a significant talking point for the 2010 Legislature.

“We are going to try to make it an issue at the next session,” Martini said. “We need to open up the talks with legislators. Just open up and get ideas. A lot of different things could come out of those talks. If we don't talk about it, we cannot generate ideas.”

Lagging revenues

and layoffs

Sparks is facing a $1.7 million shortfall for this fiscal year, which ends July 1, and staring down a shortfall of $4.9 million for the biennium.

According to a report from Sparks finance director Jeff Cronk, city revenues are down across the board, especially from property taxes, consolidated sales taxes and license and permit fees. The decreases mean that the city must fill a $1.5 million gap just to make it through to the end of the 2010 fiscal year. In addition, the city must find $3.4 million to patch a hole in the 2011 budget.

To address this problem in the long term, Martini's speech also petitioned lawmakers to grant the cities greater autonomy to mold their own revenue streams.

“Most importantly, I believe cities and counties across our great state need more autonomy,” Martini said in the speech. “After all, local governments are the closest to the people, not the state government and not the federal government. And so, it is imperative in my view, that our state legislators allow the cities and counties a seat at the table and allow us to be part of the solution. Let’s work in a constructive and collaborative fashion. Local governments, and Sparks is no exception, are operating at a bare-bones level.”

The mayor's words meant that Sparks will be petitioning for the ability to increase fees, reassess tax caps and broadening that on which sales tax can be charged. Currently, sale tax is taken from goods purchased and fuels city government. Martini mentioned charging sales tax on services as a topic to talk about.

“If we talk about it enough, we should find something,” he said after the speech.

Sparks' budget situation has weighed on the minds of many city employees in the past weeks. If about $880,000 in additional concessions cannot be carved from city budgets by April 1, staff may be facing layoffs, according to a Jan. 20 meeting of the city council with department heads.

According to Sparks human resources manager Chris Syverson, all non-union employees have agreed to hold the line on a 4.25 percent cut they all took in pay during the last fiscal year. She added that union negotiations are ongoing and each union head has until April 1 to make a decision on what they might cut.

Each union has been asked by the city to apply the 4.25 percent salary decrease to every employee. They have also been asked to carve $450,000 from their benefits, Syverson said.

For the full text of Martini's speech, see

The video referenced in his speech can be viewed at the following link:
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