Mayor Bob Crowell's Last State of the City
January 24, 2020
Bob Crowell was elected Mayor of Carson City in 2008 and assumed his duties as Mayor on January 5, 2009. This year's State of the City address is Mayor Bob's last address.
As I begin, let me first thank Ronni Hannaman and the Chamber of Commerce for once again providing the forum for the State of the City address. Let me also thank the Chamber for all that it does for our community—from ribbon cuttings to picking up trash—they do it all!
This is my last State of the City address. Between the School Board and the Mayor’s office I will have served 23 years in public service. It has been and continues to be an honor without parallel to serve this great community---the community I grew up in.
I took office on January 5, 2009---just at the time the great recession was starting to kick into high gear. Financially the recession bottomed out for the city in 2012. It bottomed out for many wage earners in our community earlier than that. We went from an unemployment rate of 7% in 2009 to nearly 14% at the end of 2010—in other words the number of unemployed wage earners doubled in the space of two years. We were losing people and businesses at record rates. By comparison, our unemployment rate for last year was 3.4% or some 900 wage earners looking for work compared to the nearly 3,500 people out of work in our community at the end of 2010.
On the city government side, our workforce declined from 634 employees in 2007 to 559 in 2012 or a reduction of 12% obtained mostly through position freezes implemented by the city and employee attrition thus mitigating large scale layoffs. Today we are operating with 597 employees or a six percent reduction from our highest employee count.
Needless to say, it was an extremely difficult time for many in our community.
The downtown area started to look bleak with the many closures. Some people told me they saw tumble weeds rolling down Carson Street. Our industrial base at the airport declined significantly. Our median home prices declined with the average turnover rate on sales taking somewhere north of 7 months.
Economic activity in our community was either slowing down or coming to a standstill.
At the same time, the city’s long deferred maintenance issues were coming to a head. Our water supply did not meet either state or federal safe drinking water standards. Our sewer plant was in daily danger of catastrophic failure. Our animal shelter was in shambles. Our roads were falling into disrepair. The legislature capped property taxes in 2005. Our general fund ending balance dropped to $4.9m in 2012—just enough to sustain the city’s needs for one month.
Our tools to deal with these critical infrastructure issues were almost non-existent.
I should also mention that it was during this period of time, namely September 6, 2011 that our community suffered the mass shooting of three guardsmen and one civilian by a crazed gunman at our IHOP restaurant-- an event that bought national media to our city and shook our community to its core.
But we have a resilient base of community members, including our city employees and many of those of you in this room who came together to keep the bow headed into the incoming waves as we say in the Navy so we could navigate the troubled waters we were experiencing.
Throughout this period we were able to maintain a stable bond rating such that today Standard and Poor’s rates our community AA- with a positive outlook for an upward change in the next three years.
As of last year we can boast about an ending fund balance of 21.09%.
Although we financed many improvements through debt, our general fund debt load through this period actually declined from some $43M in 2009 to $31M this past year or a 28.6% decline.
Our highest annual sales tax receipts prior to the great recession were $26,808.073 experienced in 2006. During the recession we lost 35% of our largest revenue source with combined sales tax revenues coming in at $17M in 2010. CTAX this past year came in at $32M or an 18% increase from our pre-recession high and a 6% increase over the prior year.
Early on in the recession we increased the property tax rate to 3.66 per hundred, an increase over the prior tax rate of 3.19. This rate stands at 3.57 today.
So how did weather through the great recession and where are we today?
On the city level we tasked our managers to come up with $10M in cuts so that we had a plan to make adjustments as necessary. They came up with 145 suggestions. As it turned out we used every one of the cuts at the first budget cycle and cut our budget by that amount. Remarkably we did this without undermining essential services for those in need.
Our local service organizations and our faith based community stepped up to provide food and shelter to those suffering.
Frankly, I don’t know what we would have done without their assistance.
I will never forget the meeting when the board was considering these cuts. We had a room full of employees at the hearing. I remember thinking this is going to be an interesting and perhaps difficult meeting. To my surprise, the first speaker, a sheriff’s deputy, came to the table and said “we are here to help.” And help they did.
I suspect that attitude on behalf of the Sheriff and his troops have had much to do with our community crime rate today being the lowest in the last 25 years. A big pat on the back to Sheriff Furlong and his deputies.
And we took steps to share infrastructure costs where we could with our surrounding neighbors. Instead of fighting each other for development dollars we implemented cross-jurisdictional sharing mechanisms for the delivery of health related services. We started meeting with our neighbors to ensure that we were all on the same page and no longer competing with each other for developers. We agreed that we would compete on quality of life and would forgo handing out money to developers to bring business to our respective communities.
And, yes, when other jurisdictions were hunkering down our community took the calculated risk to invest in our aging infrastructure and do what we could to revitalize our urban core. We did so at prices much lower than available in today’s environment.
In 2010 we joined with Douglas County, the town of Minden and Indian hills to finance and build a pipeline from Minden to Carson City in order to bring clean water to our community to blend with our own water to meet safe drinking water standards. Such a pipeline had been under consideration for years but we could never reach an agreement with everyone.
We crossed that bridge---hopefully for good.
While the pipeline cost approximately $32M in bond funds it saved us from expending the even greater amount of $40M to build a new uranium and arsenic water treatment plant. The pipeline passed Indian Hills and that community was able to do the same thing we did.
We are now in the final phase of completing that project with a 24” pipeline from the east side of our community to the west side allowing us to move clean water throughout all of Carson city and also provide for better resource management.
In 2016 we bonded north of $30M to repair and upgrade our sewer facilities and alleviate the daily threat of catastrophic failure. This was no easy task as we had to ensure that we had adequate sewer facilities to handle wastewater during construction.
We are in the final phase of that project which we anticipate completing next month. Phase 1 of that project was completed early, under budget and won awards from the American Public Works Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
For that work, our Public Works director, Darren Schulz, was one of 4 finalists to receive a Cashman Good Government Award from the Nevada Taxpayers Association.
While still recovering from the effects of the recession and a need to stimulate economic development, in April of 2016 we took the calculated risk to raise our sales tax by 1/8% so we could bond against the proceeds and leverage upwards of $18M of infrastructure dollars to revitalize our urban core area as well as the entrances to our city to compliment the 2017 opening of the long-awaited by-pass. (As a fun sidebar, in the 1960’s my father argued against the by-pass saying it would eviscerate downtown. I think he would be proud of what we have accomplished.)
We recently completed planned changes to both Curry and Carson Streets and will shortly be starting the Complete Street project for South Carson Street from the Ormsby House to Appion Way. This project will link our revitalized downtown with the south commercial corridor in one Complete Street that will serve as a welcoming southern gateway to our community.
The south Carson street project will run nearly $20M financed through a combination of a $7.5M TIGER grant from the federal government, $5.1M from the state, infrastructure funds, sewer and water funds and redevelopment funds.
We are in the planning stages of addressing the William Street corridor with the assistance of a federal Green Capitals grant. Additional projects will address north Carson Street from Winnie to I580 and Winnie to William Street.
The Federal TIGER grant is the largest ever received by our community. In fact, I don’t think we have ever received such a grant. Hats off to our transportation folks for putting together the application that won the day in D.C.
Speaking of the TIGER grant let me take a moment to share some fun things on the personal side.
During my first trip to D.C. in 2017 to work the grant my wife and I were invited to bowl in the White House bowling alley—the Truman Lanes. I always knew there was a bowling alley there but to actually bowl on it was one of those bucket list items. I think I won scoring a 93.
While bowling I got to meet the new white house head of inter-governmental relations and many of his counter-parts from a number of federal agencies.
The next year, 2018, I was personally invited to a meeting at the White House which I readily accepted. A couple of days before leaving for D.C. I just happened to be having coffee with our attorney general. I mentioned to him that I was heading to D.C. to support our TIGER grant. He offered his help. When I got to D.C. I had a personal discussion with one of the Transportation Secretary’s senior advisors to talk about the grant. As if that wasn’t good enough, while I was waiting to go into the meeting with the President in the East Wing a young man from the White House staff found me and asked if there was anything he could do for me---and of course I took the opportunity to talk about our grant.
And when the Secretary of Transportation came to Carson City to deliver the grant we closed the road in front of the Capital by placing a large piece of construction equipment on either end of the block. During the ceremonies the Secretary remarked that no one had ever closed a road for her before—to which I responded that we know how to say “thank you”. Privately her staff complimented us and related to our City Manager that “we had our act together” and that they would like to do more things with our community.
Our Transportation Division has also received community help.
Through the efforts of our community citizens we took advantage of Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” program, a program designed to help fund pothole repairs.
The Rotary Club of Carson City stepped up to fund bus shelters at 5 highly used bus stops to keep up with the growing needs of our JAC bus system where ridership has been on a rather dramatic upswing,
More recently we have secured funds to rehabilitate Kings Canyon road and trailhead through a partnership with our open space folks together with a federal lands access (FLAP) award of over $3.7M.
As planned, we also used funds from the 1/8% infrastructure sales tax to help fund the construction of our new $4M no-kill animal shelter—an effort spearheaded by CASI--- as well as build our new athletic center or MAC to take the strain off the Community Center--- two things that had been on the drawing boards for years. Both of those projects were completed in 2016.
Last year we also used infrastructure and redevelopments funds to fix up the Bob Boldrick theater sound system and seating area. We are in the process of tuning up the theater lobby through the help of the Chamber of Commerce, the Hawkins Foundation, our own Redevelopment Authority and private donors.
During all this time we continued to acquire open space and with the help of local groups such as Muscle Powered we expanded our trail system to make our community more attractive to those who wished to enjoy the outdoors. We now have 11 square miles of managed open space around our community laced with hiking and biking trails.
Hats off to our Parks and Recreation Department, our Parks Commission and our Open Space folks---and hats off to our community for passing the Quality of Life Initiative in 1996.
In conjunction with the Culture and Tourism Authority we are now coming into the fifth year of a five year contract with Epic Rides---one of the nation’s premier mountain bike races. It is my hope that we can extend that contract.
This past year we entered into a new 15 year solid waste and recycle franchise agreement. We are already seeing benefits with the diversion of yard waste from the landfill to Full Circle Compost and an increase in our community recycling participation which has more than doubled.
On the energy and environmental front we are in the savings phase of a $4M energy saving performance contract that saw the retrofit of many of our buildings. This project was wholly funded by a Nevada Department of Energy grant and will reduce our energy consumption annually by over 2M kilowatt hours and 65K therms resulting in a reduction of greenhouse gases equivalent to 188 typical homes or removing 376 passenger cars from the road and an energy savings of approximately $180,000 a year.
You may read more about our community sustainability efforts and projects on the city website—www.carson.org/sustainability---an addition suggested by one of our community members.
In the area of affordable housing, this past year saw the disposal of public land near the Butti Way Public Works campus to a non-profit organization to develop more affordable housing options in this time of rising rents and home prices. A little over two years ago our community saw the opening of Richard’s Crossing, a 39 room living facility designed to provide living space for those transitioning from homelessness with 9 rooms set aside for veterans. This project was made possible through the collaboration of FISH, the Nevada Rural Housing Authority and the Richards family. It is full.
When I first became mayor I could count the number of new homes or developments in any one year on one hand.
Today our community development division reports a total construction valuation for last year in the amount of $146M. Our previous high was in 2018 when we recorded $102M in construction valuation. It is difficult to keep up with that workload and still get any sleep. But they do.
Many have asked if we have enough water to sustain all the development we see occurring these days. The short answer is yes. We recently performed a water use analysis using the current Master Plan land use designations and a build-out population of approximately 80K residents that is estimated to occur between 2055 and 2085. The results of that study indicate that the annual water demand at build-out will reach approximately 16K acre-feet or 6K acre-feet more than is currently used. The good news is that the city has usable water rights of 18,648 annual acre-feet to meet the projected demand for water.
For the coming year the Planning Division and Planning Commission will start a two year process of updating our city zoning code.
Before I leave planning, a word about our code enforcement officers bill, Kohbarger and Jason Johnston. These folks are the tip of the spear when it comes to enforcement activities. Not only do they take the brunt of any criticism but they see a side of Carson City that most of us do not. For our community, please remember that these officers have a heart and are just as sad as you and I would be when they have to move folks from what can only be considered third world premises. Nobody likes someone to tell them what to do, but these folks are just doing their job. Do your best to be understanding.
During this time we were able to commence operations with the V&T Railroad. It is sold out during Polar Express.
And perhaps my personal favorite, this past year Carson City became the first bee friendly city in Nevada with its very own bee hotel—a project of the Chamber Leadership class of 2019.
And yes, during this period of time legal marijuana also came to our community through a statewide ballot initiative. As we proceeded to deal with this issue we always remembered those citizens, law enforcement and health care professionals who had legitimate concerns. We amended our zoning ordinances to provide for no more than two dispensaries despite some pressure from the Department of Taxation to add more. While money is certainly not the driver behind this issue in our community, this past year licensing fees from those two dispensaries reached $950K which goes to our general fund.
On the arts and culture scene, and with a pat on the back to our Cultural Commission and the city Arts Coordinator, Mark Salinas, take a look at the “Mind of da Vince” exhibit outside the community center—an exhibit that to me reflects the importance of lifelong learning.
And that’s not all. Among many other things we recently stood up an art exhibit by our local artists at the RenoTahoe Airport and we will soon be part of a rotating art exhibit in the Governor’s Mansion.
A special thank you to Eleanor and David Bugli and the Carson City Symphony for their help in getting a $10k grant from the National Endowment of the Arts— one of only 3 given throughout Nevada. And a hat tip to Cindy Brenneman for winning the first ever Mayor’s Art Award.
And another very special pat on the back to the Brewery Arts Center for bringing us the Levitt Amp music series during the summer evenings. This widely attended event will hopefully become a fixture for Carson City.
Last year we opened a new park at Schulz ranch, the first new park since 2008.
Ross Gold Park was upgraded to provide a universally accessible playground.
A coming sport, this past year also saw the opening of the Carson Ridge Disc Golf Park with an 18 hole championship course and a 9 hole family and beginner course. More than 5000 hours of volunteer and staff hours were dedicated to this project.
This April we are scheduled to open the Carson City Rifle and Pistol Range which was closed as a result of significant safety concerns. The new range is designed to comply with NRA guidelines and secure the safety of all our citizens. More than $800k has been invested in this project. A hat’s off to all those who helped make this a reality.
Our library has a new director, Tod Colegrove, who is continuing the library’s strategic plan for excellence in library services.
This past year we had the honor of making the top one-hundred list of top performing small cities in America from the Milken Foundation.
Our Senior Center Meals on Wheels anticipates serving over 100,000 meals this coming year. I could say a lot about what the Senior Center does but these quotes from two meal recipients say it all:
“Some days my Meals on Wheels driver is my only human interaction. A heartfelt thank you to all the wonderful people involved with this wonderful program.”
“Meals on Wheels have saved my life! God be with all of you. Thank you!!”
Ladies and gentleman those quotes say a whole lot about who were are in this community and one of the reasons you will always hear me say we live in the greatest city in Nevada and indeed the nation.
Let me briefly mention some things that I see on the horizon.
1. With the opening of Tesla, Blockchain, and others in or near the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center I can envision a new community coming out of the ground near Silver Springs. This will add development pressure on our area.
2. Affordable housing will continue to be a critical issue in the development of our community.
3. Until the nation and states can agree on a method of funding roads, road maintenance and repair will continue to be an issue.
4. Homelessness will remain issue. Our churches do a great job providing sleeping quarters during the night but that can’t last forever. We need to find a way to address this problem on a long term basis. That will require both State help and the cooperation of our surrounding communities.
5. For better or for worse, climate change is here. For example, our snow runoff period is changing in such a manner that it is getting out of sync with the traditional growing season. Along with the efforts of our school district we should continue on the path of reducing our carbon footprint to help address these changes.
6. The experts suggest that another recession could happen this next year or soon thereafter. But it will happen. My sense is that our community is well positioned to weather through at least a mild recession but we must remain fiscally frugal to ensure that we have sufficient financial reserves.
7. To those ends our community sustainability efforts and asset management plan should continue with a degree of alacrity.
Through my time as mayor I have been guided by the vision of one sustainable community based on mutual respect—a community that not only provides an ideal quality of life for all of us but which also reflects our status as Nevada’s capital and the future of Nevada—a community with excellent education and health care resources—a family friendly community prepared for the inevitable changes that will occur during the 21st century.
I would like to think we have made strides towards that vision.
Many folks ask me what I see as a legacy. While I don’t think in those terms let me address what I believe to be the definition of success by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem, “What is Success”. It reads:
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you lived;
This is to have succeeded.”
Thank you again for the honor and opportunity to serve as your mayor. May our community always be blessed with fair winds and following seas.