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Crystal Ball City Manager Looks Ahead
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Gazing into his crystal ball once again, Riverbank City Manager Rich Holmer ventured a few predictions when asked what the city might expect during 2009.

"We will complete the downtown redevelopment by the year's end, hold a huge celebration and redefine what Main Street means," he said with confidence.

City Council will adopt the general plan following "innumerable" public hearings and even a visit by a state expert on the subject. The general plan will set forth "the vibrant community" that Riverbank will become over the next 25 years, he added.

The budget could be a major issue this year. As the State enters 2009 without a budget, the city is lobbying legislators to ensure the funds due the city are not withheld, redirected or reduced. It may also need to go back to the bargaining units to look at certain benefits and salaries again.

"As for its finances, the city itself is OK so long as the sales tax revenues continue to offset our lost property taxes. So far they are exceeding those," Holmer said.

The city is changing its animal control services (from Stanislaus County to the City of Oakdale) and the interim period (of about six months) will allow it to put together a long-term program that will be beneficial and responsive for its citizens.

"I was looking at our old animal control center the other day and it's almost ready to handle our animals until the Oakdale shelter is expanded," Holmer noted.

A 'welcome to the city' entrance sign and waterfall feature at the Callander Wye is well under way and should be finished within 60 days. For this April's clean-up day, the city is planning two more murals with one of them destined to decorate the southern wall of the Bank Building and be in "more modern art style" than previous murals.

To encourage the building of more low- to moderate-income housing, the Redevelopment Agency has the 10 percent in funds set aside by law for that purpose. The complex planned for Patterson and Claus roads is nearing design approval. The city has just received a Community Development Block Grant that can be used to help first time homebuyers.

"We have 247 qualified applicants. So the supply nowhere near meets the demand," he commented.

Looking at plans to convert the Army's old ammo plant to civilian use, the city is moving towards taking it over as "a facility use contractor" and beginning infrastructure improvements. The plant has large areas that have never been contaminated by toxic substances.

"Some of it is just grass and cows and should attract new businesses," said Holmer.

Sewer rates still need to be raised, despite the debacle that saw a previous move voted down in 2008. By August the city will have completed a master plan and will hold "public workshops in the field" to convince residents of the need to hike the rates. Holmer suggested showing them the dilapidated state of the lift stations, for instance, and emphasizing the sewer enterprise fund has no preventative maintenance nor reserve funds.

For council, he is proposing conducting policy workshops with staff early in the year, especially to help the newer council members, Jesse James White and David I. White, get up to speed.

Within the Police Department's sphere, Holmer noted deputies are stressing traffic safety, conducting DUI checkpoints, and sending saturation patrols in response to citizen calls. Deputies also are working with businesses to deter identity theft and fraud and with citizens to form more neighborhood watch groups against burglary, theft and vandalism.

Neighborhood improvement will be a main focus this year with a revised nuisance abatement ordinance in the hopper and a renewed crackdown on graffiti.

"We will open a teen center this year," Holmer promised, although property tax revenues are falling and development overall has slowed. "We will be looking at modifying the design to save costs, we do have money set aside for equipment and furnishings but we are still looking for more donors."

As for the Del Rio project, Holmer said he did not expect to see the theater much in use in the near future because it needs interior work. But with the new council he is confident he will get a revised vote to fund a structural safety survey to proceed.

"We don't have the funds (for quick renovation). We possibly could open it up for an occasional play or art show," he said.

The Plaza Del Rio downtown park, however, will be completed by summer as part of the redevelopment project and offer an open-air arena for stage shows and musical presentations.