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Mayor: Rail City got off track in 2011
by Jill Lufrano
Mar 07, 2012 | 1114 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee
Mayor Geno Martini gave his annual "State of the City," speech Wednesday where he listed both the challenges and achievements of the Rail City over the past year. Overall he was a cautiously optimistic about the next 12-months.
Tribune/Dan McGee Mayor Geno Martini gave his annual "State of the City," speech Wednesday where he listed both the challenges and achievements of the Rail City over the past year. Overall he was a cautiously optimistic about the next 12-months.
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Tribune/Dan McGee
Various heads of city departments as well as the Sparks City Council attended the Mayor's State of the City speech Wednesday morning. Here they are giving Mayor Martini a round of applause when he finished the presentation.
Tribune/Dan McGee Various heads of city departments as well as the Sparks City Council attended the Mayor's State of the City speech Wednesday morning. Here they are giving Mayor Martini a round of applause when he finished the presentation.
slideshow
SPARKS — Mayor Geno Martini began his State of the City speech Wednesday recalling the tragedies and disastrous events that marked 2011 in and around the city, but he also gave reason to believe economic progress is in the works.

“We are committed to working together for the betterment of our region,” Martini said. “We all must work together, counties and cities alike, be blind to borders and identify the right kind of businesses that will prosper and create jobs in Sparks, the Truckee Meadows and beyond.”

Councilman Ed Lawson of Ward 2 agreed.

“The mayor always gives a great speech and I love him to death,” Lawson said.

In his one year on the City Council, Lawson said he has already seen great progress made to welcome businesses into Sparks. Though he couldn’t be specific, he said he already knew of one major company making plans to open shop and create 250 local jobs.

“My major concern is economic development. We have lowered our special use permit rate by 80 percent. We’re making it easier to do business with the city of Sparks,” Lawson said. “We are looking at what we can do to help (companies) move here and we can do as a city to help.”

City leaders have been working with different companies to see what they can do to entice them to move to Sparks, Lawson said.

“There’s a lot going on that is not good and we’ve got to be as good as we can to business. It’s just going to take time,” he said. “We’re seeing quite a few that are kicking the tires.”

Martini’s speech reminded the city of the fundamental change as the economy continued to weaken.

“It also marked a year of unfortunate tragedies in our region. A disastrous Amtrak crash … The horrific rash at the Reno Air Races was the worst air accident that impacted people on the ground since Sept. 11, 2001,” he said.

He also thanked first responders.

“I want to pay special tribute to our first responders in Sparks and throughout the region who rescued us from these terrible events,” Martini said. “From a grateful city, thank you for your service to us all.”

Sparks Fire Chief Andy Flock, who attended the speech at City Hall, reported that the fire department had responded to a total of 8,200 calls in 2011, even with a reduced level of staffing that just meets standard staffing levels with a 25 percent drop in personnel.

“These are the struggles we have but it’s also been positive. We’ve not closed any fire stations and we provide the best service we can,” Flock said. “We’re making it work and we’re doing a good job. There’s no goose laying a golden egg. As a city as a whole, we’re doing a wonderful job and we’re making it work and we’re doing a good job.”

The mayor said he was “the proudest mayor in America.”

“Well, I have to tell you, I’m the proudest mayor in America. Candidly, it was not too long ago we all wondered if any local government, let alone our state government, could stay afloat,” Martini said.

When Martini became mayor, the city was experiencing double-digit growth. Then came the housing crash in 2008, he said.

The mayor spoke about creating the new vision for the city’s strategic plan. Numerous employee focus group meetings were held to get input and feedback on areas where the city could reduce services and save public dollars. Nearly every internal and external service the city provided was listed in a matrix. Mandated services, core services and public safety were ranked. The project allowed the city to chart a course that could take it down a more realistic path in order to provide essential services to meet the needs and safety of residents, Martini said.

The budget has stabilized, at least for the short term, Martini said.

“We have some way to go before we see an upswing in city revenues. Our local and state economies remain fragile. Unemployment remains high, and the housing market has not returned to normal, as hundreds of homes are still in foreclosure, with hundreds more expected to come,” Martini said.

Property tax revenue is expected to drop by 18.5 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2012 from where it was at its peak in FY 2009, he said. Assessed property values citywide have declined 28.6 percent from the peak in 2009 of nearly $3 billion to $2.1 billion in FY 2011. Consolidated taxes, mostly sales taxes, will also take a hit in FY 2012 with an expected drop of 23.9 percent from the peak year, Martini said.

The city’s current general fund revenue, which is made up of consolidated taxes, property taxes, licenses and permits, is expected to drop by 20 percent from its levels of five years ago.

The city is now at 1996 staffing levels, Martini reported.

The mayor spoke proudly of the Parks and Recreation Department. Led by Tracy Domingues, the department obtained $620,325 in grants, helping the city continue to fund critical recreation programs, special events and maintenance.

Councilwoman Julia Ratti, who represents Ward 1 and is a vocal supporter of the Parks and Recreation Department, said she feels strongly about preserving high-quality neighborhood programming.

“I really appreciate that the mayor took the time to speak about all the positive things going on in all the departments,” Ratti said. “I certainly would be focusing on the budget and making sure we’re protecting the neighborhood services that are essential to keeping the quality of life in our city. The parks department is now down to a total of nine full-time employees trying to do all of that work. We need to make sure every penny get stretched as far as we can.”

Martini ended the State of the City on a positive note.

“I know that our residents, business owners, employees and visitors are counting on us to make a difference now more than ever,” he said. “We are ready to meet the future and serve your needs.”
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