On February 14, Mayor Allan Litman delivered the 2018 State of the City address at the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
It is an honor to stand here today among so many people that are truly interested in our city and its future.
I know from past experience that it’s not just what I have to say today that piqued your interest, but your everyday involvement in the future of Mesquite that brought you out. Of course, a great meal helps, and the Eureka is at the forefront in providing it.
Before I talk about the state of the city, and our community where we work and live in, I would like to take the time to acknowledge the influential people here today. Actually, every one of you here are influential and important in the current, as well as the future of Mesquite. All of you play an important role whether you realize it or not. All of you are worthy of recognition, but so we won't be here all afternoon, thank you for coming, and all you do.
I would like, however, to mention our public officials in my administration and those who work for our city and serve all of us in this community, as they strive to make Mesquite a better place.
Here we are today:
Today would not be possible if not for our Chamber of Commerce. Let me be very honest with you. Several years ago I didn't think this chamber would continue to exist. We as a city government took a chance by not bailing out a then sinking chamber. It was in financial distress, losing members and having no leadership. This chamber did a complete change around with outstanding leadership and it is now a model for others to follow. We owe this to Brenda Snell and the officers and board members. I know that with its new leadership it will continue to thrive.
In addition I would like to thank the Eureka for holding today's event as well as Mesquite Gaming and the Conestoga golf club for hosting other chamber events at their properties.
Now, to the reason I am here today, the State of the City. I have listened to or read the State of the City addresses for Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. Of course, they were impressive. They all tell us they are strong. They tell us they are moving forward and growing rapidly. That's a good thing. We as a city are also strong. We are moving forward, and we continue to grow. But, obviously we are not them, nor do I believe we want to be them.
What they don't tell you, as they continue to expand, are the statistics of crime, pollution, homelessness and the other ills of most big cities. When, I believe, quality of life should come first, it's rarely mentioned. We all have good weather, but they don't have the ideal quality of life that Mesquite has. I want to keep it that way as we grow and move forward. Those born and raised here stay for that reason. Those of us who moved here came here for that reason.
When I thought about this year’s State of the City address, I thought about a theme that best expresses how I feel about what we are doing and what I believe we should be doing in the coming years. The old, overused quote, “Rome wasn't built in a day" came to mind and led me to a concept probably just as old, and I quote from an old Chinese proverb, "be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still." And another quote, "small steps may appear unimpressive, but don't be deceived as they are the means by which perspectives are subtly altered, mountains are gradually scaled and lives are drastically changed." This is what I believe in. As I have stressed in the past, we are a young city and hopefully wiser in our decision making that when we started out.
I wrote an article last year about how Mesquite was on what I termed the, "sucker circuit" for those with get rich schemes. The article related to a con artist and a proposed natural gas company run by Enron. It was to be owned by Mesquite. Had we have bought into this it would have led to financial disaster for our city. We get similar proposals all the time. Remember Desert Falls? Remember the 747 hangar? No small steps, just leaps and bounds toward untold riches. Of course, not riches for us. No more do we find ourselves behind the eight ball; no more do we chase illusive rainbows and the pot of gold at the end. "If you concentrate on small, manageable steps, you can cross unimaginable distances, and do it safely”. This is what I believe in.
Many cities have a vision. We have met many times in planning workshops to talk about a vision for Mesquite. I don't recall one was really fully developed. It's nearly impossible with so many diverse opinions. However, even without that vision, we are doing fine. As I just mentioned, we are a young city, just 34 years old. Most of our growth has been just in the past fifteen years.
I'll speak later about my personal vision for Mesquite.
Over the past year we have actually come a long way, although there are times when I do start to wonder why we are moving so slowly? But then, I stop and reflect on “Rome wasn't built in a day" and another quote I like, "progressing at a snail's pace is still progress, and slow progress is better than no progress. Never be stagnant, and never give up".
We are not Rome, nor are we any other place, we are Mesquite, we are unique!!
A State of the City address is an opportunity for celebration. We have much to celebrate. Today we continue the work this administration has started, because our city’s future will be set by those here today, to build community and create opportunity. They say to never look back, but sometimes I do. It's gratifying to see how far we have come.
People have asked me many times recently, "How are you doing, I tell them good and getting better" the same can be said for Mesquite. It's good and getting better.
So it's what we have accomplished in the past year that brings us to the current State of the City and will lead us to what I would like to see accomplished in the coming year.
This year I would like to highlight each city department because so much happened in the past year that this approach would put our accomplishments in to a clearer perspective.
Under the direction of Richard Secrist, our Development Services Department is responsible for building permits, business licensing, inspections, code enforcement and much more. Without this efficient department, progress would stand still. It seems that developers, contractors, home buyers and businesses in general want it now. Development Services delivers and does it right.
In 2017 the department issued approximately 330 home permits. This is the highest in a single year since 2008. This would indicate a population growth rate of 4.2 per cent annually
the highest in the state.
The Development Services Department was able to hire another badly need building inspector and a part-time receptionist, as well as a code enforcement officer. John Marotta has made it his mission to clean up this city while maintaining positive relationships with all those he encounters in this very difficult job. A number of new businesses have opened or will be opening in the coming year.
The Cafe Rio restaurant opened in early November in the J L Bowler plaza as well as a barbeque restaurant where Playoff's used to be. Chicago Greek is up and running in the Brickyard plaza. The Virgin River Casino has recently invested three million into a remodeled kitchen and dining room and added an events facility.
Eagles Landing Travel Plaza, now a Flying J brand, broke ground several weeks ago and should be moving forward quickly. Wendy's restaurant will be located on that site. The Travel Plaza will also include a tire shop, RV parking and sixty-five truck parking spots. It is anticipated that when fully operational, the plaza will employ nearly 80 people, many full-time. A super-sized Sinclair station and convenience store has opened off Falcon Ridge Parkway and is doing well.
The REV Group, a major RV service center is still on track and should be building soon. They have expanded their initial plans from around 40,000 square feet to 76,000. They will employ many high skilled mechanics as well as paint and body men.
Deeps Roots medical has over 80 employees and will be expanding on site. As you know, they acquired two, never occupied buildings totaling 80,000 square feet. I have observed their business very closely and I can assure you they are an upstanding addition to our community. I don't say this lightly. I mean it.
Beehive Homes is completing their second building and Mesa Valley Assisted Living Center should be under way shortly. As our population ages, they should be very successful.
Leslie Pool Supplies is currently redoing several portions of the J L Bowler plaza with a badly needed service in Mesquite. And with sixty-four new pool permits pulled in 2017 they should be busy.
We have a number of additional businesses that opened in Mesquite this past year that should do well in the coming years. If they have a good business plan, trained employees, and the desire to succeed, Mesquite has the opportunities available for success. Assisting in the finding of needed employees and training to compete in the job market is the task of Mesquite Works. They are doing an excellent job. Mesquite Regional Business is out there promoting the city and working with perspective developers as well as Nevada Rural Housing to bring us badly needed affordable housing for our future company employees, as they relocate to Mesquite. In 2017, the City of Mesquite and the Nevada Rural Housing Authority developed an MOU to develop affordable housing opportunities in Mesquite.
In the coming year our Development Services Department plans on hiring a senior level building official as well as starting to update our master plan. The plan updates will address our population growth, land use, transportation, housing, parks and recreation and historic preservation of our city. On that note, we should be constructing a long overdue park next to our historic gym building along with its renovation of the exterior.
Our Public Works Department has had an extremely busy year. The department, under Billy Tanner oversaw the completion of the new city cemetery, repaving and realignment of Riverside Road, new trail system lighting, removal of 55,000 cubic yards of sediment from Abbott and Pulsipher Wash in addition to keeping our city streets looking as good as new.
Living in a desert has it challenges for our public works department and to this end they are working with Horrocks Engineers in the development of the Virgin River flood wall design as well as with Atkins North America in the design of a major storm drain project from town wash to the El Dorado storm drain.
The department is also working to see that warrants for the three future traffic signals at Grapevine and Pioneer, Turtleback, Pioneer, Hafen Lane and Riverside will be a go in the near future. In the coming year we will have new wildlife deterrent fencing around the Mesquite airport as well as two phases of road reconstruction. Traffic signals will be updated as well as a fiber optic network. Badly needed traffic signals are planned for several major intersections. This is just a sample of what is planned for our infrastructure in the coming year.
Our new City Library was started in 2017 as a Clark County library project and will be completed in the coming months. We will have a formal dedication at the end of May. Within its 13,313 square foot building, we will have a multi-purpose room with the ability to host musical performances, workshops and much more. Adding to the excitement of the new facility will be a library cafe where food and beverages will be served. The existing library which was expanded several years ago, will become a learning center with a dedicated computer lab. The plaza in front of the library will provide outdoor space for community events and will be well landscaped to give it a park like atmosphere. Our new library is beautiful and badly needed to accommodate our growing population and high- tech society.
Last year I asked the city to reinstate or add a number of badly needed positions. Many of these positions were eliminated during the recession. We needed them back as well as adding key jobs in Police and Fire. Gina Mendez did an outstanding job as HR Director in the advertising, testing and recruitment of 42 part-time and 14 full-time positions. We added or filled five positions in Police, four in Public Works, and three in Athletics and Leisure Services as well as two in our Municipal Court. With our growing population and further anticipated growth, we are just keeping even. In addition, there were a number of part-time positions added throughout the various departments.
Our Information Technology Department led by Dirk Marshall works tirelessly to keep us in the 21st century of an ever changing technology and information systems. Over the past year, the department replaced our document management software, installed cameras at each traffic signal in town, and implemented new human resources software to improve the hiring process which is now paperless. In the coming year, IT will implement a new city website, upgrade our 911 system, and upgrade police dispatch as well as our Emergency Operations Center dispatch.
Our Finance Department led by Dave Empey has done an outstanding job of keeping us afloat during very difficult financial times. His hard work and that of his department has kept us on the straight and narrow of balancing spending and income. We function on the taxpayers of this city. He never lets us forget it. Thank you Dave.
Our city attorney, Bob Sweetin, in addition to his prosecution duties, worked very hard on our new city charter. He spent considerable time in Carson City and did an excellent job of coordinating our testimony both there and in Las Vegas. We now have a charter, the first in Nevada in decades and one we can be proud of. In addition, Bob worked tirelessly in the creation of the Community Education Advisory Board. Bob spends much time working on our city legal business and has saved us thousands in legal fees that we would have normally contracted out.
Most citizens in Mesquite don't think too often about our Municipal Court. That's probably because Ryan Toone, our judge, has done such an outstanding job in managing its everyday business. But as the late night commercials say," more, you say you want more?" well, in addition to his regular court duties, we are in the second year of our breaking the cycle program started by the judge to assist habitual criminal defendants that have underlying drug and alcohol addictions. Our municipal court continues to collaborate with specialized veteran and mental health court programs in Las Vegas. Judge Toone and his staff work with Westcare, a national non-profit as part of the Clark County court system to provide a broad spectrum of behavioral health and human services to individuals who, unfortunately appear regularly in the criminal justice system. This past year our court added Mike Van Houten as our drug court coordinator/court marshal along with a part-time clerk, two drug screen techs and a court clerk.
Tracy Beck, our outstanding city clerk does far more than just run an office. Until I became mayor, I never realized what the city clerk does and is responsible for. Tracy does everything from selling cemetery plots to spending time with grieving families in their saddest times who have come into her office. It takes a special person to do this. The city clerk processes all legal documents, resolutions, ordinances, elections, minutes of all our meetings, Community Education Advisory Board, and even the Christmas lights parade. A goal of hers is to recruit and hire a part time deputy city clerk as well as updating and streamlining procedures. I urge the city to hire at least one additional part-time employee for this office in 2018.
Nick Montoya, our director of Athletics and Leisure Services and his staff fulfill an almost indescribable department. They are everywhere servicing the community and visitors of all skill levels in recreation and fitness, running our pre school, the Sunshine Academy, and providing for our seniors. The department oversees our community theater, the old school facilities, all our parks, our two cemeteries, our sports and events complex and the thousands of athletics who use our fields. I’m not sure how Nick and his associates do all they do. But I do know we have the finest Recreation Center
I have ever been in, beautiful parks, first class fields and they stay within budget.
I briefly mentioned our pre-school. If you have never seen it, make an appointment to do so. We have a new full-time teacher, Janeece Noel. We have added 110 additional children with new classes and upgraded the facility. All this and so much more under the direction of Nick and his department.
This past year, as you know, has shown considerable growth and our location on the Interstate brings us additional issues for our police and fire departments. In addition to our anticipated growth, there has been an upswing in tourism. We had over 1.3 million visitors in 2017. We anticipate even more in 2018. Chief Tanner has been looking for away to easily communicate police and emergency notifications and alerts to our residents and visitors. We are going to be participating in Nixle, a community notification used by law enforcement agencies to communicate with residents via text, email, or the web. We were selected by the FBI and granted $250,000 to purchase equipment needed to convert to the new system. Calls for police service have risen in 2017, but response times have dropped. Mesquite still has an extremely low crime rate and has been rated the third safest city in Nevada. It's not luck, it's the hard work and dedication of our officers, and of course, our two police dogs trained in drug detection.
Our Fire and Rescue continues doing an excellent job, often under the most difficult situations. They, like the police, never rest and are there 24 hours a day to assist us when called upon. As our population grows and ages, our first responders are needed more and more. We as a city must make sure they have the best equipment available and adequate staffing to perform their jobs. Our lives depend on them.
Our animal shelter has been revamped for greater access and convenience with over 40 volunteers participating in rescues and adoption events in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California.
Under the leadership of Chief Tanner, who is also currently serving as Fire Administrator, the union members have adopted a new contract which will increase our access to our paid professionals during emergencies. Our available pool of Fire reserves has increased and our overtime costs slashed. We are currently looking at the results of a transport study that could save the city even more. We will carefully evaluate this study before any decisions are made.
I believe I have covered our major accomplishments for 2017. There were many more, of course, that I could mention. All that was accomplished, we owe to the hard work and dedication of all our city staff. I am proud of them. Although I have not mentioned most of our city employees by name, their contributions to our city are not overlooked. We have great employees. Our city is a better place because of them.
And speaking of city staff, I need to give kudos to our City Manager. I know it can be a thankless job at times, but Andy Barton maintains a level head and knows how to stay the course. He is a true professional. But someday Andy will retire, as we all must do. We must plan ahead for a smooth transition as we move forward. Mesquite is fortunate that Aaron Baker is with us and hopefully will be available if called upon, to succeed Andy. I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Baker since 2011 as a councilman and more recently as mayor. Aaron Baker brings to us a wealth of knowledge and how to apply it to making Mesquite a better place.
Today I spoke about our accomplishments over the past year, the outstanding professionalism our staff has shown, but now it's time to speak briefly about our future. It will be brief as our future can change in a minute.
When I practiced psychotherapy, I often referred to the work of Susanna McMahon, especially when I was seeking an answer to a difficult question asked by a client. The question," what is within my control?” was often asked. Our western model of doing emphasizes control and trains us that power and control are valuable goals. What this model is actually teaching us is the illusion of control. I learned long ago, there are only two things in the entire world that are within our control:
We can plan as much as we would like. We can dream as much as we do, but real control is not in our hands. Good things happen and bad things happen. We don't always know when. It's good to plan and we should, but there will always be something that could interfere with our plans. However, we must be prepared as best we possibly can. We always need to think about alternatives, and be ready to act. I feel secure when a plan B is available should it be needed. I keep that in the back of my mind as I think about where Mesquite is going. I know our Finance Department understands this. We must continue to be financially conservative. Our economy is fickle. It can change quickly. This is what I believe.
Mesquite is a city with solid bones. We have excellent infrastructure. We need to keep it that way. Our crime rate is low, but the enemy is always outside the gate looking for a way in. We must not let that happen. We as citizens must fully support our police and first responders. This needs to be a top priority. This is what I believe.
We need to take a good look at our natural resources as we grow. I don't think of myself as an environmentalist, just a realist. Back in the late 1990's a second major planned development was started. It followed Sunset Greens, the cities first planned development. Lots of green grass. It fit its name well. Along came Mesquite vistas and a mandate for more green space. We must be very cognizant that we live in a desert. Our Parks Department has saved us considerable water and expenses by reducing green space whenever possible. We, as homeowners, should consider doing the same.
As we continue to grow, we must not ignore Mesquite blvd. Strategies must be developed to create a central city we can be proud of. Summit discussions with property owners are needed. Incentives should be developed to encourage development of some of our empty properties near the new Library. I fully understand that we, as a city, are not in the development business, nor retail or commercial business, and cannot be. However, we must reach out to every owner of developed and undeveloped property to assist them in every way possible to encourage them in economic development of the property. Too many empty storefronts and lots send the wrong message. Exteriors that need refurbishment send the wrong message. We need to work as a team. We have Mesquite Regional Business and the Chamber to assist us.
We, as a city government, need further collaboration with every federal resource we can, to promote economic competitiveness, protect our environment and enhance quality of life in Mesquite. The partnership for sustainable communities, a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency, worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop federal resources for sustainable rural communities in 2012. We need to tap into these resources. There are many others if we look.
To this goal, I would ask the city to establish a position of a full-time grant writer. Our police department was able to do this, and reaps the benefits of their efforts many times over. It is money well spent.
Over the past year we have worked closely with Southwest Gas to bring natural gas to Mesquite. All the necessary filings have been done with the Public Utility Commission. Hopefully we will have natural gas here within the next year. Community hearings on natural gas will be held here on the 28th. We were promised natural gas twenty years ago. We can't wait another twenty.
Workforce housing is a must for our city. New employees coming here will need affordable housing. We need to encourage it not relegate it to undesirable locations for the sake of a few who do not understand it's concept. All our residents deserve decent housing.
We need to take emergency preparedness very seriously. What happened in Las Vegas could happen anywhere. We are not exempt from disaster or tragedy. This is our community. We must protect it the best we can.
We talk about community all the time, but do we really understand its meaning? We need to continue developing the common identity that is needed to bring us all together, not divide us by geographical location or financial standing. The path to becoming a healthy community starts with broad community engagement, leadership and the development of a shared vision of community goals, effective planning, and the collaborative use of internal and external resources. When I lived in southern California long ago, we used to comment that we live in a suburb in search of a city. We are not that, we are a city, but foremost a community.
We, as I said before, are doing well, but we can always do better. We need to stay the course, evaluate our decisions carefully and I firmly believe be will be successful as we move forward. But, we must work at it every day.
Robert Lewis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but the seeds you plant."
Thank you for listening today, and remember, big things have small beginnings.