Turlock Mayor John Lazar’s 2011 State of the City Speech
Wednesday, February 8, 2011
This is my fifth State of the City address and the first in my second term as your Mayor. As these last five years have begun, each has brought a different set of circumstances that we face as a community. The last two years have been particularly difficult as the national economy has declined drastically. Ironically, despite what has gone around us Turlock remains a bright spot in the Central Valley for both what it has achieved and some of the recognition it did not get.
So what does that mean? I have been asked on numerous occasions about what successes we have seen in the City of Turlock last year?
After giving the question some consideration and thought, in many ways, what did not happen to Turlock in this downturn in the economy has constituted some of our biggest successes as a community.
Let me explain. Turlock has not seen the double digit foreclosure rates as the other communities in Stanislaus County who were ranked among the highest in the nation. Looking both to our neighboring counties to the south and to the North there does not appear to be many communities that have weathered the foreclosure crisis as well as we have.
While unemployment is in the 18% range for the Central Valley, Turlock’s unemployment is significantly lower at approximately 10%. This speaks well to our jobs housing balance and the superior planning we have done as a community to not only bring jobs to our community, but also create a place that not only do people want to work, but also to live. Sixty percent of the people who live in Turlock work in Turlock and seventy-five percent of the people who live in Turlock work in Stanislaus County. While we still have work to be done in bringing more businesses and job to Turlock, we continue to fair better than our neighboring communities.
The good news is that Turlock’s ability to weather the economic storm that we have seen is a huge success and makes our recovery period shorter.
From a fiscal perspective, Turlock has already seen stabilization and a slight increase in our sales tax revenue as well as a stabilization in property values which helps us to continue to pay for vital public services such as police and fire. The City’s employees have come together and made further concessions to insure that there were no further lay offs and cuts to community services.
The City has seen successes in garnering federal stimulus funds to construct such public works projects such as re-paving Canal Drive, providing business assistance in Turlock’s unique Entrepreneur Center as well as assisting new large employers such as Peninsula Plastics to provide training for their new employees. In these times when so many communities have only the bad news of businesses closing, we feel that this is such a positive sign of new and additional business coming to Turlock.
Other bright spots in economic development include the downtown Entrepreneur Center that was established at Center and Main Street and has had seen success with the launch of three businesses from the site into the community. Other downtown projects approved, underway or established in the past year include Dustbowl Brewing Tap Room, Wahl, Willemse and Wilson, CPAs, Frost Bakery/Restaurant, and Chic Shack to name a few.
Elsewhere in the community 2010 approvals have included additional work at Peninsula Plastics located on Tegner Road, you may recall the Canadian based recycling firm purchased the VarcoPruden building and site. As Valley Fresh was closing down operations on D Street staff worked with a commercial broker out of Chicago to facilitate the purchase of the plant by another food processor. They hope to open soon and have indicated that they will be re-hiring many of the former employees.
Two new fast food restaurants have been approved on Geer Road. Wing Stop is a new addition to the community. You may have noted that Matty’s Market on Main Street has been rebuilt. In Shape City is making major improvements to what used to be Circuit City in Monte Vista Crossings area.
In December, the new City Council in its first meeting, approved the proposed Family Entertainment Center which may provide more bowling and other indoor family entertainment options for Turlock residents . They are anticipating construction to being in March or April.
Also of note, through the City of Turlock’s Redevelopment Agency, several projects were accomplished or are currently underway to enhance our community both economically as well as bring great benefits to the community. Specifically, some of those new projects include the construction of the Carnegie Arts facility that is currently under construction. It has been exciting to watch as the once regal Carnegie building and its scorched skeleton is being transformed into a beautiful arts and community center.
The new Public Safety Facility, which will house all police operation, their joint dispatch and fire administration, is set to break ground in about sixty days. Much of the ground work to enable the construction of the Public Safety Facility occurred in 2010, the construction bids were awarded earlier this month and the sale of bonds recently took place to enable the project. The PSF and Carnegie will provide additional activity in the downtown that I am sure will benefit our downtown businesses.
Both of these projects demonstrate the City’s commitment to maintaining a vibrant downtown as well as enhancing the safety of our community.
In addition the City through a variety of funding sources continues to make improvements at Columbia park that include the community center and the very popular water feature.
Using the funds from the Redevelopment agency, they city has also participated in the renovation of Debely Stadium as well as sewer and water improvements in the Westside industrial area to create shovel ready opportunities for the new businesses we have desire and are working hard to attract..
The Redevelopment Agency has also approved and designated funds for the Avena Bella affordable housing project located on Linwood near Cunningham School. This project, when completed in the two phases will house 141 families. Avena Bella will join Crane Terrace as another example of how Turlock builds affordable housings.
All of these projects will provide construction jobs while the projects are being built as well as their long term benefits to the community.
As you may be aware, the Governor has proposed eliminating Redevelopment Agencies and the Enterprise Zone program, needless to say the Turlock Redevelopment Agency has served this community very well and we are opposed to both of these proposals.
With regard to public safety, the Police Department has dedicated resources this past year toward bolstering its volunteerism programs and enhancing partnerships within the community. Volunteerism has served to retain services extended to the community that would have otherwise been eliminated as the police department reduced staffing levels. The vigorous volunteer programs that have grown to be so successful within our police department provided thousands of hours of service to the community again this year. Our police department also capitalized on the benefits of neighborhood and business watch programs to combat the ever prevalent property crime problems that plague the central valley – and are heavily driven and associated by the methamphetamine epidemic. Through these partnerships the community has benefitted significantly.
Our police chief has asked me to remind all of you that if you have interest in partnering with the police department to address problems within your neighborhood or impacting our your business, whether quality of life or suspected criminal activity, please don’t hesitate to contact the police department. The Chief is committed to pursuing the highest quality of life for our community through effective, efficient and collaborative police services.
So looking ahead in 2011…
First, I would like to thank the Turlock community for their support in my re-election. I recognize the hard work of the Council for the past four years. As I start my second term as Turlock’s Mayor, I have already begun our planning as a new council in preparation for the hefty workload that faces us. I am confident that we are up to the challenges ahead and are all committed to doing what’s in the best interest of our community.
The new City Council has been sworn in and seated and we have already begun work on a two year strategic plan to lead our community. This plan will be vital in positioning Turlock for further economic recovery and development. In this regard, I am both hopeful and optimistic. While it is my job to lead the Council, our objectives for 2011 will be a team effort. We are living in a period of time when the people have lost their trust in their government. Whether it is the State Legislature or the scandal in the City of Bell, we are tasked with proving that the City of Turlock is transparent in its policy making, is responsible with the taxpayers’ dollars and is putting the best interest of the community first in our decision making.
Looking ahead, the Council will be busy dealing with some rather large and complex issues that include the adoption of a new General Plan, the designation of a zoning district to accommodate homeless shelters by right, the 2011-2012 budgets, and the oversight in the construction of the new public safety facility. I believe this Council is up for the challenge as we work through these important issues for our community.
A couple upcoming items that may of interest in 2011 include the establishment of a business incentive program, to help businesses locate in vacant spaces through-out the City through the provision of fee assistance in an amount up to $5,000. Staff is working with a new owner of the shopping center at West Main and Soderquist who has plans for tenant improvements and establishment of a new grocery store are taking place.
In addition, working with the Downtown Property Owner’s Association I’m happy to say we will again have a Farmer’s Market downtown on Friday mornings. This proved to be very popular last year. The first market will take place on May 6th.
I have also been asked about further or future budget cuts and what those might be….?
The primary components to the City’s General fund budget are sales tax, property tax and a few other smaller revenue generating sources. All of these funding sources are considered volatile and easily affected by swings in the economy. The City of Turlock, as some of those swings that increased revenue was prudent to put those funds away as reserve. Our current General Fund reserve at the close of the 2009-2010 fiscal year sits at about $18 million dollars. It is my hope that with a healthy reserve as well as the early indicators we have seen for modest increases in sales tax, that we can continue budget reductions with planned retirements and normal employment exits. We will continue to seek more efficient service delivery models and resolve the imbalanced revenue and expenditures over time while using our reserve wisely. We recognize that we are in better fiscal shape than many other communities and we have both previous councils as well as competent staff to thanks for setting this course.
The City Council is scheduled to receive a briefing on the current 2010-2011 budget in January and we will be able to benchmark where we are in the current year budget and ascertain adjustments that need to be made in the current fiscal year. I am hopefully optimistic that that our current year budget and revenue projections will hold true.
Lastly, over the years I have talked about Turlock being the jewel of the Central Valley and I still believe that to be true. I see this City Council committed to the ideals that have made Turlock a unique and wonderful place to live over this next four years.