Carson leaders talk strategy about city’s aging population, quality of life

Demographics as destiny or as a signpost for new pathways kept Carson City’s Board of Supervisors and top staffers batting about ideas for change Thursday.But so did shorter-term issues: downtown business and traffic; grappling with sewer rate fee hikes; and deciding whether the community needs a deputy city manager. Yet the all-encompassing talk at a six-hour strategic planning workshop, which followed a brief presentation on city demographic age and housing patterns, seemed seamless at times.The status quo took a beating after participants heard the city’s population of people 65 or older is 2 percent higher than the state’s and nation’s rates, plus voiced their own concerns that the situation could worsen if young people leave or aren’t lured here. “You have to be fearless to lead,” Supervisor Brad Bonkowski said just moments after lamenting that for four decades, his view grew that the older generation here is “too status quo.” Supervisor Karen Abowd said she didn’t want to live in “a gated community,” which is what she thought status quo would produce.“I just feel that we need to raise the bar,” she said.At one point, for example, she cited Bonkowski’s suggestion of a housing program like Reno’s to help young people into home ownership. She called it “a missing link” that should be investigated.Supervisor John McKenna, sounding at times like a devil’s advocate and at others like a man with a plan, said the city is unlikely to retain or attract scads of young professionals if it continues down current paths.Yet he also said attracting good high-tech firms could help, noting the city has excellent fiber optics for communications. Quality of life, he said, is crucial. People and families will live where they’ll be happy, he said. It was McKenna who brought up the sewer plant issue, saying rates likely will skyrocket and in the process prompting a lengthy discussion.It again showed the seamlessness of the day, making the point that lowered rates years ago led to depleted current financial resources as the sewer plant is moving from aging to decrepit.Fire Chief Stacey Giomi jumped in at that point.“Everything we do is done on the cheap,” he said. “It’s just enough to get by.”When issues came up regarding downtown business and whether to cut Carson Street traffic there from four lanes to two, talk turned to a future town hall meeting. It was billed as the first of ongoing town halls.Abowd called that a bottom-up rather than a top-down process that might help move the city forward.Mayor Robert Crowell instructed City Manager Larry Werner to move toward that, but there were suggestions that people from the private sector might help with the town hall.Chamber of Commerce Director Ronni Hannaman, who was in the small audience, was asked if the chamber’s leadership group could help. She said the current group and some earlier graduates could. She and Maurice White, also involved with the chamber leadership group, both cautioned that some in the community have the perception a tight network runs Carson City. On another shorter-term matter, Werner was quizzed about why he feels having a deputy city manager would help him and the city.Supervisor Jim Shirk asked why, with a grants coordinator opening that hasn’t been filled of late, someone couldn’t be hired to take on some additional chores along with overseeing grants. Werner said he also needs help with communications issues and aid in overseeing some departments, along with other things.“These things are just falling through the cracks,” he said. Mayor Robert Crowell expressed worry that it is an efficiency matter.“It’s not a succession plan,” he added.McKenna asked that Werner put the issue on the March 21 agenda for the full attention of the board. Thursday’s public meeting, which attracted a few from the community but principally focused on public officials’ ideas, was focused largely on past and present as prologue to the future.“Do we turn ourselves into a retirement community?” Bonkowski asked at one point, immediately giving his verdict. “I don’t think so.”


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