Carson City 2013 outlook: Sewer and parking issues top concerns for new year
December 30, 2012
Experimenting with downtown parking and catching up on city maintenance needs, along with sensible budgeting for lean times, concern Carson City officials going into 2013.But that’s not all. Officials next year will begin addressing longer-term water and sewer concerns, move toward a multi-purpose athletic center, grapple with unfunded mandates from the state, and consider enhancing city cultural arts. “We need to celebrate our small successes as we move forward,” said Mayor Robert Crowell, but moving forward seemed as great a concern as past success. “The last thing we want to do is drive traffic off of Carson Street,” he said, noting the bypass is on a priority list and the finish date, though uncertain, looms. So the city’s longtime main drag is changing. “We’re in a fortunate position to be able to experiment,” Crowell said of parking and traffic patterns on the Nevada 395 corridor that, for years, carried considerable traffic.“The idea would be on a test basis to see if we could bring Carson Street down to two lanes, to see if it works, without seeing a lot of costs,” Crowell said. Some favor parallel street parking, but others oppose it, and discussion will include whether to remove iron street fences along Carson Street’s sidewalks.Carson Street traffic volume is decreasing due to the bypass to the east, which already has reached Fairview Drive southeast of the downtown. One study showed traffic has dropped 35 percent.As for successes, one Crowell cited was The Hub, an Adams Business Development Center, which the Hop and Mae Adams Foundation and Northern Nevada Development Authority are bringing to the city. It will host and help high technology firms at 222 Carson St.But looking forward, the mayor and members of board of supervisors — incoming and outgoing — also focus on the budget, water and sewer, those unfunded mandates, and deferred. “Our sewer plant is starting to age,” said Crowell. “You have to start talking about it.” One way in which that talk will begin is in working up a water rate design study the mayor said will be taken up soon. He said the design study will provide alternatives on costs.Outgoing Supervisor Shelly Aldean, in assessing city needs in 2013 and beyond, literally talked about where the rubber meets the road. “Improvements at the sewer treatment plant and the ongoing maintenance of (the) street system … are only two of Carson City’s assets that will need an infusion of capital to keep them functioning at an optimal level,” she said.Outgoing Supervisor Molly Walt cited sewer needs and maintenance as well, but mentioned personnel for public safety. “They’ll tell you they’re bare bones,” she said of Sheriff Ken Furlong and Fire Chief Stacey Giomi. She worried over the 2013 board’s plight.“There just isn’t much of a capital improvement budget,” she said, which will force discussion and more decisions regarding city fees. Both those outgoing officials decried state unfunded mandates pressuring the city budget.City Manager Larry Werner, Finance Director Nick Providenti and Roger Moellendorf, the Parks and Recreation Department director, talked of taxes, finances, maintenance and a building project going into 2013.Werner said city government revenues, reliant mostly on sales and property taxes, are showing stabilization after some rough years.He said city government may up its general fund city reserve from 5 percent to a more comfortable 8.3 percent if that holds and improves. “Our main focus is on sales tax,” Werner said. “It’s slowly getting better.”Providenti said the Fiscal Year 2013 budget the city now is halfway through amounts to $58 million, the overall expenditure budget $123 million. Moellendorf, whose division handles some maintenance, said if a bare bones capital improvement budget gets help over time, there is plenty besides the streets waiting for attention.“We’ve got, like, about a million square feet of roof to deal with,” he said.. He said because capital improvement money dried up, “we’re not really doing any (new) projects unless there is a prospect of a grant.”One such project is for a lower athletic field complex in Centennial Park, but it hinges on securing matching grant money from Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act funds. The city sought $627,189. Word on that may not come until late 2013.Moellendorf also said the city is preparing to move forward toward building a multi-athletic, or multi-purpose activity center.Bond money already is secured but center details are yet to be finished. Moellendorf said the city has first right of refusal on about six acres near the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, which is on Russell Way near Northridge. The project, downsized some over time, includes a double-gymnasium facility, which also can become four smaller courts, and would be for both adult and youth programs. The two gyms were downsized from National Basketball Association size to high school gym size.“We’re still working on the final configurations,” Moellendorf added.Moellendorf said the project was among the priorities for Quality of Life funding approved by voters in 1996. The budget is about $5.7 million or so, $4.8 million construction money and the rest in so-called “soft” costs.Community need is obvious, from Moellendorf’s perspective. “We still have the same gym that we use for the bulk of our programs,” he said, noting the community center gymnasium has handled the load since the 1970s.He hopes to take plans to supervisors early in the year, break ground by June and be in the new facility a year later. Supervisors-elect Brad Bonkowski and Jim Shirk, both in real estate, mentioned overall city finances as among their chief concerns.“The state will continually reduce all funding and pass along any newer expenses to the city in the next few years,” Shirk said.His priorities are a balanced budget and building city reserves, as Werner has mentioned, while maintaining city services and upgrading infrastructure such as the sewer plant.Bonkowski sounded hawkish on mandates as well. “The No. 1 issue,” he said, “is going to be the budget and any unfunded mandates that get pushed down from the state.” While stressing those concerns, he also mentioned the sewer and parking concerns highlighted by the mayor.Supervisors John McKenna and Karen Abowd know of those issues, but focused on others as well. McKenna, for example, talked short-term maintenance and long-term change due to technology.“We spend $900,000 on streets,” he said, noting $2 million actually is needed as he emphasized the very issue worrying Aldean and others.Longer term, McKenna said, he looks toward a Carson City future keyed less to bricks-and-mortar outlets and more involved in taking advantage of the city’s strong fiber-optic technology.He also joined the mayor in noting the freeway bypass will alter significantly the way the city functions.Abowd cited budgetary concerns, too, but focused mainly on goals for positive changes to bring visitors and business to the community. She said after a national search to hire a talented person to head the city’s convention and visitors bureau, she wants marketing of the city’s story nationwide and beyond.Abowd’s talk of bringing in business included the city’s troubled northern corridor. “It’s something that I want to tackle head-on,” she said.Also on city officials’ agenda about mid-year could be a decision regarding an ordinance being drafted by the cultural commission to provide 1 percent of any excess in funds from each previous year’s general fund budget.Though these are and have been lean times, if there is an economic recovery with rising tax receipts in future years the excess earmarked would provide a small amount for public art and culture in the community.