Photos and video below article
The Sierra Madre Room was packed as the first State of the City speech began Monday, and even after the parents of the Sierra Madre School third graders left following their performance, there were still several dozen people on hand to listen as Mayor Joe Mosca spoke for just over half an hour about the current State of the City.
The event began with Mayor Pro Tem John Buchanan introducing Brownie troop 5361 which did the presentation of the colors and led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Rev. Dick Anderson, former pastor of Sierra Madre Congregational Church gave the invocation. Then Buchanan introduced Sierra Madre School principal Gayle Bluemel, who told the audience that the school is teaching the kids about character this year, that there are six “pillars” to character and that February’s “pillar” was fairness. Bluemel then led the third graders through a performance featuring several songs and recitations by various students. The performance ended with the kids singing the Sierra Madre School alma mater.
Emcee Buchanan then introduced the Mayor to speak on the State of the City. As might be expected, the emphasis was on the positive, discussing current status, accomplishments, and goals, with only a brief discussion of some of the “challenges” the City faces. As the Mayor spoke, a slide presentation was projected showing pictures that for, the most part, corresponded with the item the Mayor was discussing.
The Mayor started by thanking everyone, singling out, well, pretty much everyone. He paid tribute to 20-year City employee and 39-year resident Paul Hagen, who will be retiring in July. Then he got into the meat of the speech, first discussing the City’s 2007 recognition as an All-America City, followed by City finances, noting that the City General Fund is balanced for a 2-year budget, with a reserve of nearly 50% of the annual budget. He attributed that to the UUT increase passed by the voters a couple years back. He noted that Sierra Madre is more dependent on property taxes than sales tax income, which he says has been a positive for the City, as we have never become dependent on sales tax to balance our budget. He noted that 75 percent of cities in the region have seen property tax revenue decrease, while Sierra Madre’s properties have generally remained steady or risen. He also noted that the city has done a good job finding revenue from County, State, Federal and other sources.
He discussed the fact that General Fund revenues are remaining flat, while General Fund expenses are on the rise, singling out rapid increases in pension costs, health care costs, and energy costs. “The state’s massive debt structural deficit, and lack of effective solutions negatively impacts our community,” Said Mosca. “The state continues to take local revenues while pushing down further unfunded mandates as a way to govern the state. The threats to local government revenues and to our local control, make it very difficult when planning for the future and to maintain our local level of services.” As an example, he cited Gov. Brown’s plan to disband Community Redevelopment Agencies, which he said has been a benefit to the Community, funding the construction of City Hall, and helping to pay parts of the salaries of City employees.
He defended the City’s recent 7.5% times four year increase in water rates, noting that it was the first increase in five years, and that the total four year increase came to about the same as South Pasadena’s recent single year, thirty percent increase, adding that the water fund, unlike the General Fund was not balanced and that without the increase, in a few years, projections showed that the Water Fund reserves would have completely disappeared. “The City’s water department is a City owned utility with a wholly separate fund. This utility must bring in enough revenue to cover its obligations and to ensure an appropriate level of investment in the system so that it continues to deliver quality water in a reliable manner.”
Accomplishments cited by the Mayor included a $7 million dollar investment in the Miramonte Reservoir, the largest Public Works project in City history, the restoration of the Sierra Madre room and the Fireside Room in the Recreation Center, an $800,000 investment in street repair using Measure R funds. He noted improvement of the City’s “rolling stock,” i.e., a new fire engine, ambulance, and water tanker, as well as a new backhoe and sewer truck for Public Works. New software for the City’s computer system, the new emergency radio station, progress on the City’s General Plan update, the formation of the Green Committee, progress on the creation of a Canyon Zone, the 5-year plan for the CRA, and a library program that delivers books to homebound residents were also cited as accomplishments.
Among the goals discussed by the Mayor were the refurbishing of the Senior Center using CRA funds, creation of the City’s Facebook page (“Who knows, some day we may even be Tweeting”), a more user-friendly City website that will include online payment of water bills. He also hinted at an upcoming announcement about improvement of cell service in town through a collaboration with AT&T, and this announcement drew applause throughout the room. He also noted that the City will focus more time on economic development to help fill the empty storefronts in town, and the preparation of a new 2-year budget.
Among the challenges the Mayor cited facing the City are locating funds for continued repair of the streets, the aging water infrastructure, tree-trimming, and more. Not mentioned among the challenges facing the City are the ongoing negotiations for a labor agreement with SMPOA. Another challenge not mentioned by the mayor was litigation, both ongoing, and anticipated.
The mayor closed by thanking the residents for allowing him to serve as their mayor, and then he thanked all the sponsors and contributors to the event.