This is a transcript of Mayor John Lazar’s State of the City Address he gave this morning during the Turlock Chamber of Commerce’s membership breakfast event.
STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS 2010
2009 has been a challenging year for the City of Turlock, the Council and our employees. The economic downturn and the crash of the housing market have significantly impacted the financial health of the City. A decline in revenues forced the City into layoffs and has caused us to reprioritize services and reevaluate the way we conduct all facets of City business. We are keenly aware of the fact that our future survival depends on new economic development and higher paying jobs for our residents. We must make Turlock “the place to be” for business through an increased awareness of all that we have to offer and a commitment to quality customer service. It is up to each of us to do our part in finding ways to do business more efficiently and to constantly search for ways to do things better, faster and less expensively. While past practice should be considered, we should not be afraid to question and challenge our processes because in this climate, we are dealing with challenges of a degree never experienced before. Creativity and the courage to challenge the norm have never been more important than they are right now. I am calling on all City employees, elected officials and community members to play an active role in moving Turlock through this difficult time and into the possibilities of a brighter future. Based on the pool of talent, level of passion and unwavering commitment to our community, I am confident we will succeed.
Despite the challenges, we have much to be proud of as a City. Our employees partnered with the City and voluntarily took a 5% reduction of their salary through June 2011 to assist the City during our current economic challenges. Each department has contributed to the City’s forward movement and to the preservation of its long term goals. The following represents highlights from each of our departments.
Development Services has worked diligently to balance staffing resources with workload and has done much to improve turn around times. The Building Division issued 1,089 Building Permits with a total valuation of $34 million and conducted approximately 5,200 inspections.
The Planning Division continues to work on the General Plan Update which is projected to be completed in the summer of 2011. On February 18th, at 6:00 p.m., at Westside Ministries, the City of Turlock will hold a community meeting to solicit public input on zoning options to address a new State Law, Senate Bill 2. State Law requires cities to designate an area or zoning district(s) that would allow a year-round emergency homeless shelter to be constructed and/or operated through a “nondiscretionary” permitting process.
The Engineering Division completed many significant capital improvement projects this past year. Among them is the completion of the Columbia Park Renovations project involving the renovation of three existing buildings which will be nicely complimented this spring by the anticipated Columbia Park Water Feature. We are seeking to secure state and federal dollars during these tough economic times to ensure Turlock receives their fair share of available funds.
We also want to encourage citizens to participate in the upcoming U.S. Census, as this has a direct financial impact on the amount of federal funding the City is are eligible to receive.
Our Traffic Division has the distinction of receiving a record $1.7 million in stimulus funding for the construction of a new transit transfer center. This has been a busy year for the Housing Division. The Federal stimulus funding and a renewed effort to working collaboratively with the community have brought an additional $3.5 million dollars to Turlock for various types of housing assistance. This comes at a time when the need for housing services and economic development are critical. Projects the City Council has approved for economic development include:
* Turlock High Stadium Renovation
* 148 Units of low income housing
* Canal Dr. Roadway Reconstruction & Repair Project – Stimulus Funds
In January, I attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Session in Washington, D.C. One of the highlights of my visit was participating in sessions with our nation’s President and Vice-President. Our active participation at this level is critical to our City’s future. In addition to the important mayoral sessions, I arranged visits with our Congressional representatives to seek their support on several critical funding requests.
In an on-going effort to reduce the impact to the General Fund, the fire department has actively sought and obtained grant funding totaling over $39,000 for several projects. With a grant through the Department of Homeland Security, four firefighters attended Hazardous Materials technician school, further enhancing their abilities to mitigate incidents in our City and throughout the region. In addition, an Assistance to Firefighter’s grant and Department of Homeland Security grant provided the necessary funding to purchase new VHF portable radios and several new radio parts for existing equipment. Firefighters continue to hone their technical skills and spent approximately 32 hours on training each month. In addition, engine companies conducted over 1,700 business inspections.
The Police Department continues to progress in achieving the goals set forth in their strategic plan. One of the many goals achieved is in the area of Crime Analysis. This is the first time in the history of the police department that crime activity has been actively tracked, analyzed and forecasted. This allows the department to more effectively assign resources for both general patrol and proactive policing. The City of Turlock is the first City in the county to pursue the implementation of an automated Traffic Citation system, in which citations are electronically filed with the courts. This avoids repetitive and labor intensive processing of citations. Police staff members were successful in obtaining grant funding from the COPS, JAG and OTS funding sources allowing officers to be hired and critical equipment to be purchased. Since the implementation of the Strategic Plan we have seen great success, which has resulted in an overall crime reduction of 20% over the last two years. We know that with continued effort and by partnering with our community we can continue to lower crime rates and create a safer community. This is critical to the long-term well being of our community.
This year, the Turlock Regional Water Quality Control Facility was awarded “Plant of Year” by the Northern San Joaquin Section of the California Water Environment Association. Few people realize that the Plant’s advance level of wastewater treatment and available capacity is a critical component of the City’s overall economic development strategy; Turlock’s Water Quality Control Facility offers industries a significant competitive advantage. A number of significant capital projects are planned for our wastewater utility. To reduce the impact of these projects on our ratepayers, we are aggressively pursuing State and Federal financial assistance. Recently, we began investigating the possibility of providing recycled water to farmers in partnership with City of Modesto – recycled water is now a valuable asset in California, a State plagued with a perpetual shortage of water. Despite the three-year drought, the City’s water utility is also in excellent health. This year we added two new storage tanks and our conservation efforts are helping to reduce water demand. We continue to plan strategically to ensure a reliable supply of quality water as part of the City’s long-term economic development efforts.
While we are proud with the excellent health of our utility infrastructure, we have not neglected our human infrastructure. Park’s staff facilitated the construction of the popular BMX Bike Park, further expanding the recreational options for our residents. The first year implementation of the Teen’s In Action Program was one of many successful programs managed by our Recreation Staff. We will only attract new businesses if Turlock remains a premiere place to live and raise a family.
We have had some “wins” in the area of Economic Development. The WISP area is now home to US Cold Storage, Nelson-Jameson, Sensient Dehydrated Foods and Peninsula Plastics. The WISP site continues to be touted for its shovel ready amenities and is set to generate significant economic growth in our City. A significant development in the number of lodging establishments has greatly enhanced the City’s ability to host large sporting and entertainment events. Turlock is now home to Candlewood Suites, Fairfield Inn and Comfort Suites.
I intentionally wanted to end with the area of Economic Development due to the significant role it will play in determining Turlock’s future success. It is vital that we recognize the direct connection between economic development and the City’s ability to provide a gold star standard of customer service. We must treat each customer as if our future depends on it, because it truly does. Local government can no longer survive on regulation and the “they need us, we don’t need them” mentality. We must adopt the adage of our private sector counterparts which proclaims “the customer is king!” If we fail to recognize this, we create an environment where we will continue to be vulnerable to economic downturns while our “competitors” seize development opportunities that could have been ours. While it may take some time to get everyone on board, together we can begin to steer this ship in a new direction. The best part is it doesn’t cost a dime. It only requires a commitment to making the customer service connection to economic development a priority and the willingness to be open to change. I truly believe in our ability to make these changes and the possibilities that await the City of Turlock.
Last night the City Council took action to position ourselves more aggressively and get the word out on the WISP. We are actively participating with the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, commonly called “The Alliance.” The Alliance provides assistance to existing businesses and recruitment efforts for new businesses. Heidi McNally-Dial our Economic Development and Redevelopment Manager will be going into greater detail regarding our successes and future plans when she speaks.