On January 29 the Mesquite City Council held its second and final all day goal setting meeting. The meeting was moderated by Randy Robison, the Director of State Legislative Affairs for Century Link.
The purpose of the sessions was to create a “collective vision” for the council and to provide direction to staff on larger issues such as growth and economic development.
Each councilor as well as members of the public attending the meeting, were asked what their priority issues were for the City in the next few years. After much discussion, several issues were identified, including growth, maintaining a safe and clean city, enhancing public trust and living with budget constraints.
Mayor Al Litman suggested that the City should have “Intelligent growth” rather than the blind pursuit of new development. Councilor Rich Green agreed saying his desire for Mesquite was to be “attractive to both retirees and younger workers.”
Specific actions to promote “intelligent growth” included having the City work more closely with Mesquite Regional Business and the Chamber of Commerce. It was also agreed to ask for joint meetings with the Virgin Valley Water District and Overton Power boards to better coordinate city and district activities. Councilor Green suggested that the City should try and use Community Development Block Grants better to do projects that would encourage growth.
Councilor Cindi Delaney told the council that “Slow and steady growth makes for strong roots.” Delaney also suggested that Mesquite should look at marketing “our brand” to a wider audience.
A second goal identified was to enhance public trust with council actions. Councilor Geno Withelder suggested encouraging people to attend the council technical sessions to get background on issues they are concerned with. Councilor Craig Hafen suggested that staff do a “simple summary” of issues at the technical sessions so that the public had a chance to better understand what was coming before the council.
The council then discussed ways to make current public outreach more effective. City Manager Andy Barton noted that his monthly public forums vary widely in attendance “Some months there are twenty and some only two people” at the forums. One suggestion was to make the city manager forums specific to one topic, which might draw more people.
All agreed that the mayor’s open door policy where residents can call directly or make an office appointment with the mayor has been effective. Councilor Green suggested that councilors should also participate when appropriate.
Green also suggested that the City should print a “pocket sized” summary of the income and expenditures of the budget so the public doesn’t have to try and read complicated budget documents.
Councilor Delaney suggested that conversations with residents should begin before an issue gets to the technical sessions or the council meeting. “I think it is important to encourage people to email or call us,” said Delaney.
Business owner Dave Ballweg suggested that the council allow public comment on each item on the council agenda, instead of allowing comment only at the beginning and end of meetings. Ballweg noted that if he had heard the council discussion on a particular item his comments would have not been necessary or would have been more on point. City Manager Barton noted that Nevada open meeting law requires cities to allow public testimony at the beginning and end of public meetings. He suggested that he believed however, a city could allow comments on issues that were not noticed public hearings. Ballweg said he believed it was “up to the mayor to decide.”
Resident and Vice President of the Virgin Valley Water District Barbara Ellestad noted that every councilor represents Mesquite on various boards and commissions. “We never hear what is going on,” and added “we have a right to know what is going on in these meetings.”
Another suggestion was to create a quarterly newsletter to provide more information to the public.
Throughout the last hour of the meeting, council and staff discussed what it means to ‘live within our means’, or more simply, how to meet the budget. With the budget meetings set to begin in May or June, the City is looking for ways to meet the projected revenues without overspending. Preliminary projections for those revenue aren’t due to be available until mid-February.
“We’re already to the bone,” said City Manager Andy Barton. “There isn’t too much more left that can be cut.”
In reality, Barton was right. Many residents who do not understand what this city is made of or how it operates often assume that there are too many staff members, cops and fire and rescue workers.
Fire Chief Kash Christopher noted to the council that their calls received are up 44% since 2010 and that many times when calls are received, they do not have adequate staff that is required for safety requirements, thus needing assistance from other agencies such as Bunkerville Fire (Clark County), Beaver Dam and even our own police department. “It is what it is, it’s not sugar coated,” he said.
Police Chief Troy Tanner agreed with Christopher stating that there are currently 27 officers, including himself, in the department, which is two less than where they should be for the current population.
With Police, Fire & Rescue and Public Works being the top three priorities of core services the city must provide and maintain for most of the council members, everyone agreed that there is no where else to cut there.
So where does that leave the city in cuts, you might ask.
That’s where the council inserted the public as a solution. Staff and council ultimately determined that if there were going to be any cuts, whether it be 5% or up to 20%, they weren’t going to be able to make those decisions without input from the residents, and getting them involved in ways that would bring the whole city together to take on this task.
Councilman Geno Withelder also stated that “If we can maintain (our current status) for the next 12 months without cuts, I think we will be okay.” And that is the main goal that council and staff set.
Stay tuned to the MLN, as we explore these ideas further, and watch for future announcements for the city and their plans for public forums regarding the budget this spring. In the near future, there will be a special section added to our website for easy access to any and all budget-related items.
A final report with recommendations from Robison will be completed in February and presented to the board at the February 24 council meeting.