City gov’t tackling full plate
January 11, 2014
The rest of January and the first quarter of 2014 amount to crunch time for the consolidated city government of Carson City, as well as city residents.
A quick look at the rest of January, the February follow up to this month's events, and the search for a new city manager that will stretch through March provides a jam-packed lineup that would rival the hit parade if people were talking pop music. But we're not, and there's more.
We're talking town hall meetings, capital improvement projects, a possible city sales tax hike, searching for and selecting a city manager, pay decisions affecting all city workers, and beginning the deliberations on next fiscal year's budget. Let's start with the town hall meetings, though they aren't first on the calendar.
"Hopefully there's a good turnout," said Mayor Robert Crowell about the town halls. "(That way) people get a good idea of what's proposed."
The three town hall sessions on Jan. 21 and Jan. 29 about which he's hopeful offer citizens a chance to look at four street-scape projects aimed at improving business corridors, the so-called Big Mac multi-athletic center facility years in the planning, and the animal services shelter proposed to replace the current dog and cat pound.
In February comes the Board of Supervisors decision on which ideas to include and whether to boost city sales tax one-eighth of a penny to pay the freight on those projects.
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"My preference is all of the items that we've discussed stay in," said the mayor. One reason, he said, is the city would lose flexibility by breaking up the group.
"They are appropriate uses," he said, for the sales tax hike and bonding "if we use it. I think it's important to have it all in."
Controversy, however, could dog not only the sales tax hike because some residents feel taxation pressures, but it also could come from the street-scape business district plan to alter downtown's traffic. A year ago the mayor favored experimentation on Carson Street downtown, but throughout 2013 anti-two lane traffic people objected to the idea of narrowing Carson Street from four lanes through that business core.
The main downtown change in 2013 was just taking down wrought-iron sidewalk fencing, but the two-lane and parallel parking idea stalled. Public Works will display the latest rendition of making a change downtown at the town halls, which are at 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. in the Fuji Park Exhibit Hall on Jan. 21, 6-8 p.m. at the Community Center on Jan. 29. The other projects also will be displayed at each session.
Continuing criticism may surface as well over how many or few businesses were involved in the other corridor project plans. Those three corridor face lifts involve North and South Carson street areas, as well as a stretch of East William Street. Whether anti-Big Mac residents or opponents of a new animal shelter join the fray are other questions.
Funding from the tax hike and bonds, if the hike passes muster next month with a four-vote board majority, would be used for the street-scape plans. But it would finance only part of the MAC and animal shelter projects.
There is $5.7 million for the MAC from Quality of Life funds already approved, but the Big Mac plans would require $8 million or so. The shelter proposal is for $4 million, but the private sector organization Carson Animal Services Initiative (CASI) is raising part of the money necessary.
The mayor was asked if he had any concern about bonds or using the final one-eighth of a penny taxing authority allowed the board. He replied that not only are the projects appropriate, but the most recent bond ratings tracking city indebtedness showed moderate debt levels.
"We're not over-stretched," he said.
Crowell pointed to parts of the bond rating reports from Standard and Poor's (S&P) and Moody's.
S&P cited, among other things: "Strong financial practices and policies, and an experienced and proactive management team whose efforts are expected to continue to provide stability to city reserve levels."
Moody's reported: "While the city's gross direct debt burden is above average at 3.6 percent, much of the city's debt is self-supporting by water and sewer net revenues; thus, overall debt burden is a moderate 1.7 percent."
The town halls in late January and decisions over projects the following month, however, aren't the first items in this city hit parade.
On Thursday, the mayor and supervisors will set pay parameters and kick off the public part of the process for selecting the next city manager. The mayor is hoping for a strong pool of candidates to surface after that so a sound replacement for Larry Werner can be found. Werner retired Dec. 19.
"I hope that the pool of interest we get is similar to what they received in Washoe County," Crowell said. He prefers a large pool initially, but then wants it pared to 7 or 10 solid candidates. During the search, Deputy City Manager Marena Works is serving as interim city manager. The search process is likely to take at least until the end of March.
Also this Thursday, the board will take time to deal with a compensation study for all city employees. In the past, city government has followed a competitive marketplace approach in handling workers' pay and benefits.
City government, as the Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget gets crafted, will feel pressures of deferred decisions and await news of any uptick in tax receipts. But Finance Director Nick Providenti has said to date receipts aren't that much higher than last year's revenue stream. He already has told departments that deferred capital projects may enter next fiscal year, in July, without any or much funding available.
It also is likely board members may want to raise the city reserve cushion for FY 2014-15, which also is called the ending fund balance target. That is money that can't be used.
Providenti acknowledges his office is conservative in forecasting and monitors receipts closely. He intends another look at how projections and the actual income stream match up come March.
Tax receipts often lag any economic recovery going on in the private sector, and this period may prove no different. But the mayor is looking forward with optimism.
On Feb. 5, Crowell will deliver his state of the city address at the Carson Nugget during a breakfast held by the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. Cost for the 7:30 a.m. event that first Wednesday of next month is $20.
Without giving away his whole talk, which is entitled "New Year: New Opportunities," Crowell did say during an interview about the crowded city calendar that he looks forward to private enterprise gains.
"I think that there is a lot of economic activity that's being considered for not only Carson City, but Northern Nevada, and a lot is going to happen," he said.