That was the verdict given by Mayor Geno Martini during his annual State of the City address on Monday morning.
With a reflective and matter-of-fact tone, and a keen focus on the fiscal health of Sparks, Martini assessed the city’s position through the lens of past successes, present stagnation and future challenges.
The last decade brought unprecedented change to the city, Martini said, including a 36 percent increase in population.
This influx of new residents gave rise to new commercial developments — such as the Legends at Sparks Marina shopping center — increased caseloads across city departments and placed greater importance on flood control, transportation and environmental improvement projects.
But the tremendous growth cycle now has given way to a deep and lasting economic recession, resulting in a record number of home foreclosures, massive layoffs in the public and private sector and bloated government deficits.
And talk of a recovery is premature.
“I want to be clear to our residents that … a recovery has not begun to occur in Sparks,” Martini said.
Development is at a virtual standstill, unemployment remains high, property and sales tax revenues continue to decline and the city faces a $4.6 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
“We have real structural budget problems that continue to exist,” Martini said.
The city has begun to tackle these problems with efforts to combine certain departmental functions and eliminate programs that are not cost-effective. It also has recently turned its sights on the possible privatization of services, such as street sweeping, in order to lower costs.
The loss of some public safety personnel, maintenance workers and administrative staff in recent years requires the city to “do more with less,” Martini said, but these strains demand more be done to shore up budget shortfalls as the city returns to 2005 spending levels and staffing levels on par with the late 1990s.
Other approaches include asking for more wage and benefits concessions from public employee unions, ramping up economic development efforts and increasing the annual number of special events in the city.
Martini also advocated Monday for reforming the state’s tax base as a way to help diversify the local economy.
“We can no longer be dependent on property and sales tax accounting for nearly two-thirds of our operating revenue,” he said.
The city’s property tax revenue is expected to decline by some $2 million in the current fiscal year, and city finance staff predicts another $1 million reduction for the next fiscal year.
One approach Martini said he is not willing to take moving forward is a proposal to consolidate the governments of Sparks, Reno and Washoe County in order to reduce the costs of public services.
Though voters narrowly supported a ballot question in last November’s general election that asked whether Reno and Washoe County should pursue shared services, Sparks residents have repeatedly expressed their opposition to participating in such an endeavor.
“The reality is consolidation of governments … results in more failed attempts than successful efforts,” Martini said. “Sparks is not interested … our strength is our ability to have 100 percent oversight of city funds spent on city services.”
Martini closed his 30-minute speech by thanking city staff, acknowledging their hard work over the last year and promising that Sparks will make an economic comeback.
“I said this last year and I am compelled to say it again: Despite the economic difficulties that have been thrust upon us, we still live in a wonderful city, in a great state, in the strongest nation on the face of the Earth.”