Carson City government finances are good, though not exceptional, Mayor Robert Crowell said Wednesday as he urged a boost in sales tax to do capital projects.
In a State of the City speech at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored breakfast, Crowell cited a $1.1 million bulge in ending balance last year, solid bond ratings and prospects for rising city revenues.
On the down side, however, he said a declining yet “unacceptably high” local jobless rate of 9.3 percent means 2,500 potential wage earners are out of work here.
Those assessments came early on, followed later by an unabashed push for the city sales-tax hike, use of bonding and support for the two building projects plus multiple street-scape investments.
“In my opinion,” Crowell said, “both the imposition of a sales-tax increase and the projects planned to be constructed by that increase should be viewed through the prism of pride in our city today and our vision for our community tomorrow.”
The proposed boost by one-eighth of 1 cent, he said, is estimated to impose a $12.50 burden for the average family. But he diverted from his prepared text, noting there are exceptions.
“Now, it’s not average if you go out and buy a car; I’ll grant you that,” he said.
Three of the projects, which he outlined in detail, are the larger version of a planned multipurpose athletic center (MAC), a new animal shelter and a partial facelift in downtown streetscape or traffic in bid to enhance pedestrian friendliness.
The other proposals are streetscape improvements on East William Street and North and South Carson streets outside the downtown core.
Crowell said the larger version of alternative plans for the MAC, a concept in one form or another on the community’s radar screen nearly 20 years, is a commitment that must be fulfilled.
“We need to make good on our community promise to build such a center not just for our own residents, but to satisfy our growing demand as a sports community,” he said.
When he turned to the animal shelter, Crowell decried the status quo with uncharacteristic loudness.
“It’s not just an embarrassment for the capital city,” he said in mild tones, pausing for emphasis before shouting, “It’s a disgrace.”
Downtown and other business corridor improvements are needed, he said, because the I-580 freeway bypass changes traffic patterns and is set for 2016 completion.
“In my opinion,” he said, “we need to start planning now to move forward.”
The mayor — as many government executives often do in such state of the nation, state or city speeches — offered up a laundry list of accomplishments and challenges.
Crowell said cooperation with nearby jurisdictions helped on issues such as environmental health, water supply and other collaborative services.
“This is certainly a change from days gone by — but which we are still paying for — where our respective counties engaged in a rather expensive fight over sales taxes,” Crowell said.
Again diverting from his text, he added, “Hopefully that will never happen again.”
He mentioned sewer and water rate hikes to upgrade plant and equipment, talked of collaboration with the local school district as well as the neighboring counties or communities, and touted work with Nevada state officials on veterans’ affairs.
But the bookends for his talk at the Carson Nugget were his analysis of city finances and his full-throated endorsement of the sales-tax boost for projects.
While going over the tax hike and projects, he asked and answered a rhetorical question.
“Can we do these things?” he said. “Most assuredly we can.”
But he also was clear it will take a four-vote majority, a matter that still hangs in the balance as just he and two supervisors seem on board to date.
Supervisors Brad Bonkowski and Karen Abowd have been supportive, so a fourth vote Feb. 20 would have to come from either Supervisor Jim Shirk or John McKenna.
McKenna is on record as preferring a vote of the people first. Shirk hasn’t tipped his hand, though he also wanted much public input via three town hall meetings.
The mayor, to the final page of his text, kept seeking board and community support.
“Those decisions are not easy by any means,” he said. “They require judgment and, yes, they require a degree of risk. But we can make them easier and we can mitigate the risk if we work together.”