Countless agenda minutes and passed motions will tell you that hundreds of projects are ongoing at the City of Sparks heading into 2013. The City Council has stressed throughout the past year that economic development and job creation are at the top of the priority list and it has developed initiatives for promoting tourism, sports and special events.
Ron Schmitt has served on the Sparks City Council for more than 10 years and currently sits on committees such as Sparks Tourism and Marketing (Chair), Local Emergency Planning and the Washoe County Human Services Consortium, to name a few. He said his focus in 2013 will be an ongoing examination of the city’s financial security.
“My biggest priority is to continue monitoring the economic progress of the city,” Schmitt said Monday during a phone interview. “I plan to constantly monitor the economic condition of the country and the city so that we are able to be out ahead of any trends that may begin, or any sort of recession, so we can keep things financially secure.”
Schmitt said the city was able to come out of the most recent recession despite the amount of turmoil it caused for the entire country. Though the City of Sparks was hit by the economic downturn, Schmitt said a goal of the city council is to ensure the city’s public service remains strong.
“We want to be able to react quickly to any changing events in the country and in the state to be as prepared as possible,” he said. “We also want to hire back as many people as we can to fill the service-level positions that we lost from the police department, fire department and those places —and have the money to do so.”
Mike Carrigan has been a member of the Sparks City Council for 13 years and is on committees such as the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, Truckee Meadows Water Authority and the Regional Planning Governing Board. Carrigan agreed that the City of Sparks survived the recession in a much more stable condition than other entities in the area.
“As far as our budget, we’re looking better than Reno and Washoe County,” he said. “We’re doing fine. We got ahead of the curve … I’m really proud that as a city council we saw the writing on the wall. We started cutting back and didn’t have to lay off people.
“We all banded together and said ‘this is what we need to do.’ Everybody sacrificed. Some people took a pay cut, but we kept everybody working and were still able to do a lot for the citizens.”
Ron Smith has been a member of the City Council since 2006 and holds seats on the Regional Transportation Commission (Chair), Truckee River Flood Management Committee and the Sparks Redevelopment Agency (Chair), among others. Smith said based on the committees he is involved in, the Flood Project and improvement of the Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard intersection are at the top of his 2013 list.
“I think the near flood that happened earlier this month (December) shows us that it could happen any time and we have to move the flood project forward,” Smith said Monday. “We have to protect the industrial park down there.”
As chairman of the RTC, Smith was key in finalizing and groundbreaking the SouthEast Connector, which will provide a new southern route to Reno. He said now that the project is underway it is time to shift his focus to another highly traveled area of the city.
“Eventually we are going to have 120,000 people living in (the Spanish Springs) valley and an intersection fails if you have to sit through it more than once. We also have the US 395 Connector which is several years away and is a $600 million project to help that part of the city.”
Smith said the city was able to acquire a few homes in the Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard vicinity as part of the intersection project. He said acquiring those homes is an extensive process and the city will be working closely with the Nevada Department of Transportation next year to purchase more.
The City Council will also be working with the Washoe County School District in addressing some of the problems in Sparks schools this year. Superintendent Pedro Martinez is focused on closing achievement gaps in student’s education, a shared goal of the Sparks City Council.
“My ward has the lowest income in the city and many of the children in my area are English-language learners. We have to do a better job of getting those kids ready for high school,” Councilwoman Julia Ratti said in mid-December. “I think the entire council is supportive of closing those gaps by enhancing lower grades. When we hear and see that students are struggling in the third grade, it is highly unlikely they will make it through high school.”
In addressing the goal of economic development, the city has begun a relationship with the Economic Development Authority of Northern Nevada (EDAWN) to aid in bringing in new businesses and strengthening current ones.
“Anything we can do to get those (outside) businesses to come in and stay here we will do. We can put Nevada back to work,” Sparks City Manager Shaun Carey said in November. “All of our sales taxes are essentially coming by people having retail. That needs to be northern Nevada’s focus for the next three to five years because we are a preeminent community in which to relocate for anyone who wants to expand. We have the capacity, the workforce and I think we will see a slow, gradual improvement and more Nevadans will be back to work.”
Councilman Carrigan said attracting and recruiting new businesses into Sparks will be key for its future. He said becoming “business friendly in Sparks” will boost economic development.
“We’ve got some empty land and a lot is in areas we can offer good deals,” Carrigan said. “I want to try to get businesses to relocate. A lot of people in California are pretty upset with the state and a lot of people are looking for a place to move their business.
“I want our economic development people to reach out, then let our council say ‘no’ if we need to.Their concern should be recruiting and finding businesses that want to relocate. That’s what this city needs.”
In marking some of the highest achievements of 2012, Councilman Schmitt was quick to cite the SouthEast Connector project as a “major accomplishment” for the City Council, the RTC and the region. He said considering the number of years it has taken to approve the project, seeing this year’s city council help finalize it marks a milestone of 2012.
Another shared accomplishment of the council and Mayor Geno Martini is the ability of the council to work together despite issues and concerns on various projects. Smith said working with the current Sparks City Council is “wonderful because we can solve problems and work together,” and “even when we disagree we work together. When the voting is done we back each other up.”
Mayor Martini voiced his opinion about council members working together among themselves and with the City of Reno and Washoe County governments last month.
“Anytime we can get together on a project like this (the SouthEast Connector), that was a little bit controversial, it’s huge. It really is,” Martini said. “When there is a project that we really need in this community and is really going to benefit this community you know we come together and we get it done.”