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Mayor Reviews State Of City
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"So what is really happening in the City of Action?" Mayor David I. White asked in starting his State of the City address on March 9 and plunging straight into a review of the economy.

White commented that many of his friends, family and neighbors have lost homes and jobs as the result of the current economic uncertainty.

"It has touched my life personally," he said, "as my wife suffered through job loss and the resulting circumstances of being almost a year on unemployment as she pursued job retraining and eventually found a new job and career."

Looking at the local effect of the national recession, he noted property tax revenue is one of the main sources of income for a local jurisdiction like Riverbank. But due to a quirk in the Proposition 13 formula that the state uses to make payments, Stanislaus County and five other smaller counties have to pay money to the state and receive one of the lowest percentages of return on property tax revenues. State Senator Dave Cogdill has introduced legislation that would freeze the "negative bailout" and solve this problem to their advantage.

Since property tax is declining and sales taxes aren't meeting expectations, the city must look for new revenue sources and reduce costs.

"The goal is no layoffs but employees will have to make some concessions from their current agreements," White noted.

Passage of the state budget that would increase sales tax, vehicle license fees and personal income has yet to come to fruition. The budget ballot measures slated for early May and June are also yet to be approved by the voters. So the city is still waiting for the impact of the state budget. But the mayor's objective is a balanced budget.

White went on to review some accomplishments of the city during 2008, department by department.

Finance Department - Director Marisella Hernandez - received a perfect rating in its annual audit, placed the city budget and audit on the website for community access, installed a fully secure website for payments of utility bills online, got new machinery to speed up check scanning and annual renewal of business licenses and established a stronger relationship with the building department in tracking foreclosed homes and their water service.

Police Services - Chief Bill Pooley - got a fifth sergeant funded by the county to give the city 24/7 supervisory coverage and two extra deputies based at the local police station, conducted two large scale probation sweeps of the northeast county, making many arrests and recovering considerable stolen property and guns, held a series of meetings to revive Neighborhood Watch programs, and instigated a new city beautification and graffiti abatement using the free labor of jail inmates to clean up numerous sites throughout the city.

Parks & Recreation - Director Sue Fitzpatrick - opened the Riverbank Sports Complex, completed nature signs along Jacob Myers Park trails, boosted the aquatics program and the Barracuda swim team, saw the Youth and Teen Committee refine plans for the proposed Teen Center, which is ready to go to bid; and organized many new programs, classes and activities for the community.

Administration - Director Linda Abid-Cummings - revamped the city's website, Council Corner and Map Guide; coordinated events such as Beyond Earth Day, Community Awards Banquet, Farmers Market and Tamazula Sister City visits, was responsible for the 2008 elections and oversaw chamber remodeling, ordinance and resolution preparation and records management.

Public Works - Director Dave Melilli - completed among other items Phase I of the Downtown Project, the Highway 108 landscaping project, Safe Routes to School projects, wastewater treatment plant sludge removal, Santa Fe Bridge seals repair, master plans for sewer, water and storm drains and railroad crossing improvements on Patterson Road.

Community Development - Director J. D. Hightower - completed the general plan and EIR, prepared a nuisance abatement ordinance including anti-graffiti classes for third and fifth graders, coordinated the Sam Jackson Cleanup Day and Beyond Earth Day events, devised a method of preventing transfer of foreclosed houses without them meeting minimum maintenance standards, saw commercial development continue with plans for a Farmer Boys restaurant at the Crossroads Shopping Center and Burger King on Patterson Road.

Housing and Economic Development - Director Tim Ogden - saw the civilian reuse plan for the Army Ammunition Plant submitted to the Army, secured over $1 million to support businesses at the site, secured over $500,000 for implementational planning and loaned $750,000 of County Economic Development Bank funds for two local businesses to expand onto plant property rather than leave Riverbank, spent a $660,000 grant on assisting eight first time home buyers, partnered on a 64-unit family apartment building, coordinated the downtown revitalization project and the downtown specific plan, hosted several shows at the Del Rio Theater and initiated its structural safety inspection; gained 180 hiring tax credit vouchers worth $310,000 for Enterprise Zone businesses that hired new employees or bought more machinery.

Having looked at the city's accomplishments during 2008, Mayor White went on to look at some of the projects planned for 2009 and his personal goals and thoughts for this year. These items will be covered in Part II of this story in next week's issue.