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2014 State of the City Speech

State of the City 2014 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Garrad Marsh

Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining me in chambers tonight. For those of you at home or watching a broadcast in the future, thank you also. I appreciate your interest in our City. Usually this presentation has been a daytime event, but by moving it this year to an early evening, I hoped to reach a more diverse audience.

In the past, the State of the City has been a recital of the last year’s events and achievements along with a list of future plans and objectives.

So often in the decisions that the City Council undertakes, there are no right or wrong choices. The paths we are faced with are seldom easy or clear. Every choice may have lasting consequences not just for you or for today, but for your children and grandchildren or for decades into the future.

Currently the City is undertaking the general plan update. It is a process that forces us to look 40 years into the future and make decisions now that may resonate for decades. Our population grows at a rate of 1% based solely upon living longer and still having families. That factor alone means we will add 100,000 to Modesto's population over the next 40 years. Where will they live? Where will they work? That is the job of the general plan process, and the difficult questions of protecting our agricultural heritage while preparing for the impacts of our enhanced lifespans. Planning change is never an easy process. Never!

Modesto has developed a downtown master plan that zones for and promotes multi-level uses, plus citywide adoption of denser requirements for housing. These choices have allowed the City, for the first time in its history, to return 1500 acres of planned housing back to use as prime farmland.

Additionally, your City Council has already removed over 800 acres of the Wood Colony area from non-ag uses that had been designated for development since 1995, again a historic nod to saving our agricultural economy. To go one step further though, we will soon be bringing back to Council a recommendation to remove all of the Wood Colony additions from our General Plan.

My goal for Modesto's economic future, diversification of its industry and job generation is focused on the area surrounding Kaiser Hospital and Gregori High. Stanislaus County has already promised developers the right to pave this area. Modesto is capable of providing the services, and this will provide our economic engine for 40 years. This also should remove development threats to other ag-sensitive areas of our surroundings.

During the general plan discussions, two other historic motions were passed. One was farmland mitigation which says that if Modesto ever adds more land, it will preserve, forever, an equal amount of farmland.

Along with mitigation, Modesto and Waterford currently are prepared to enter into an agreement for a green buffer space between our cities - A first for both communities.

The second motion was a proposal that new housing will pay for its police and fire needs. For decades citizens have called for development to pay for its impacts. For the first time ever, this proposal will make that a reality. While it is unclear what a diversified economy would mean, I believe it is important to recognize one of our major non-ag industries. Modesto is a magnet for medical and medical services. From Sacramento to Fresno, no other community hosts such a diverse selection including three full-service hospitals and their ancillary services.

Just in this last year, we witnessed the opening of a new VA Clinic on Oakdale Road. It is benefiting our veterans who now have local services that formerly required travel to Livermore or beyond. Central Valley Specialty opened in the old City Hospital providing acute rehab services not available anywhere in our area. Davila Dialysis just completed construction. And Health South Rehabilitation facility is on schedule to open next year. There are more in the works. Modesto is a medical star.

To prepare for a diversified economic future, Modesto has to also ensure it can provide the services, the infrastructure; the water and wastewater facilities for that future.

Modesto and the MID territories are a water oasis. Due to difficult decisions made over 20 years ago, in this most dramatic of drought conditions, Modesto will be capable of providing all of our local water needs. This does not mean that we, in this dire dry spell, should not take steps to use this vital resource wisely. Look for your March utility bill insert to find tips on reducing your water use.

Modesto and MID have resolved the steps needed to complete our second water treatment plant. Represented by Council members Cogdill and Zoslocki, we expect to have the plant completed and added surface water available early next year.

Our $100 million tertiary wastewater plant is also due to start service by early 2015. The output from that plant is water suitable for pools, bathing, or irrigation. Modesto is working with Turlock and Del Puerto Patterson area to ensure our treated water is provided to the farmers of our western area of Stanislaus County. Former Council member Hawn has been helping to secure access to the Delta Mendota Canal, a vital link to this plan.

Completion of this project will not only provide water to 40,000 acres of farmland, but should allow Modesto and its citizens to avoid multimillion dollars of future costs.

With these projects slated for completion soon, Modesto will be updating both its water and wastewater master plans; preparing for the future. I hope that upon completion of the water master plan, we will move to a water rate update. Several years ago Modesto collapsed its many rates into one basic rate. While this was appropriate at the time, it resulted in, and it is time to end, the subsidization of water costs to areas that are not in our sphere. It should be noted that Modesto is now 77% metered and, the average cost for metered and flat rates for water are almost identical; a goal of the Council when the current rate structure was set.

A wastewater master plan should prepare Modesto for additional agricultural industry and may end in tiered rates for industry and other uses. With plans for added capacity and with our water availability, we should become a magnet for more ag-related industry and other businesses burdened by water and wastewater restrictions in the Western region.

One other infrastructure item is our road system, and again good news is forthcoming. Last year, upgrade to the Kiernan overpass was funded and work is underway. Additionally the 99 to McHenry section of Kiernan is also under construction to expand to 4 lanes.

This last October, the California Transportation Commission met in Modesto and awarded over $40 million to reconstruct the Pelandale overpass. Bids have just been received, and indications are that the cost will be below expectation. And finally I would like to mention that indications are that the new 132 Highway alignment will finally start construction in the next few years.

As you can see, there has been good news, but there are also difficult, ongoing challenges. Not all is easy, and by far your Council's greatest challenge will be our budget. Modesto has, since the downturn o 2008, balanced its general fund budget with one-time funds and reserves.

Last year brought the realization that such practices cannot continue. With the failure of Measure X, voters sent a message to the Council to slash spending. That means having to cut $5 million dollars from our services. This year, the general fund budget will be balanced and sustainable.

The major expenses of the general fund are police and fire, your parks and trees, and our roads. The cuts necessary to bring our budget into balance mean we can no longer afford all our parks, can no longer maintain our trees, can not keep all our fire stations open, and will need to further reduce our already inadequate level of policing. Difficult choices that will not please anyone, but they are the choices your Council will need to make.

Additionally the general fund is the guarantor for functions that are unable to meet their obligations. The Centre Plaza and our golf system have consistently required subsidies to operate. Without added revenues, these subsidies can no longer continue and must be addressed.

Part of the budget problem, not commonly acknowledged, is the State’s continued impacts on local revenues. With its own fiscal problems, the State has reduced our Motor Vehicle License Fees from almost $12 million to zero. Then they dissolved the Redevelopment Agency (commonly called the RDA) taking away more than $3 million for local uses. And now they have revoked the Economic Development Zone that was a tool for job generation in our region.

I could talk about some possible budget cuts now, but the list is long and quite concerning. Budget hearings for the General Fund will be held in the evening of May 5th. The public is invited, or I should say, encouraged to attend. Each department’s budget is reviewed, the possible cuts discussed, and a tentative budget set. It is here that reality hits you head-on.

Let’s talk about some better news for our community. In November EAH opened Archway Commons, our newest affordable housing complex on 9th street over to Carver Road. This project of 76 units transformed one of our greatest eyesores into housing for seniors, disabled and low income workers. EAH chose our local Huff Construction to build this fine facility. Opened on November 21st, it was fully occupied in only 7 days. There are currently over three hundred on the wait list. None of the funding for this public-private project came from local revenues.

Also this last year, the Meadow Glen Apartments, housing for emancipated foster youth, was completed; again converting a blighted property into a quality facility being operated by the Housing Authority. Two other affordable housing projects are under construction, Bennett Place will give us 18 units for seniors and citizens with special needs; and the 11 unit Downey Terrace near downtown will provide senior housing. However, with the dissolution of the RDA, over $1 million annually has been lost to our community to assist in providing affordable housing. Another major concern of many Modestans and visitors to our City is the impacts caused by the chronic homeless. While the persistent homeless have repercussions throughout Modesto, the greatest impacts are found in our city's center. Both Council members Gunderson and Kenoyer are actively seeking ways to address the effects on our City. Hopefully advancements will be forthcoming in this year.

Following the departure of our IT director, Council member Madrigal has taken up the mantel of support for free Wi-Fi in central Modesto. Concepts for this project are close to being rolled out. Also staff member Josh Bridegroom is helping with the Downtown Modesto Partnership, a true public-private collaboration. Downtown business owners, patrons, and interested groups are working with City staff towards improvements in the downtown core. Two of the primary focuses are a 10th Street Art Walk and physical improvements and beautification of J Street. All of this without City funds.

In June, we will see an expanded Graffiti Car parade, thanks to John Sanders and our local Kiwanis Club. Look for this fabulous downtown event and plan to attend.

Finally, what do Monaco, Le Mans, Long Beach and Modesto all have in common? All are hosts to Grand Prix events. SuperKarts USA has chosen Modesto to host its Summer National SuperKart Grand Prix. Modesto joins Dallas and Las Vegas as host to one of SKUSA's national races. This event will transform downtown Modesto into one of the most exciting racing venues in the world. August 1st, 2nd, and 3rd will find an already fully-booked 300 racers, their support teams, and spectators flocking into Modesto. What an influx of dollars to our city from both of these events, they are a perfect fit for the original American Graffiti town.

Let me finish up with one area that Modesto really excels – it’s the care and concern of our residents – their willingness to step up and help. When I have held workshops and my town hall meetings, one solution that is always mentioned is using partnerships and citizen groups to supplement what the city’s budget can’t provide. With the impacts and reductions to services, your City needs you more than ever.

A great example of partnerships can be seen with the opening of Mary Grogan Community Park in June. This complex opened with 7 soccer fields, three are synthetic and lit for night games. What makes this facility unique in our city is the partnership with Modesto Youth Soccer Association which has committed to provide for maintenance of these grounds. Soon after opening, thousands of soccer youth and their families came to Modesto to participate in tournaments, giving economic stimulus to this City along with savings for our local youth. A real win-win for all.

I recently was invited to attend the 90th birthday of the Modesto Garden Club, and they have had partnership with the city since their beginning. As the largest Garden Club in the country, they have committed thousands of hours and dollars improving our city.

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