State of the City
2015 was a quietly productive year. This year saw some great improvements in many of our key indicators over the 2014 levels, positive changes in our operations, and continued development of the United for Yuma community message of working stronger together as a community. The main message is positive – things are changing – Yuma is growing again.
For instance, in the construction sector, there was some forward movement. The number of permits issued by the City was up 25%, and the number of houses constructed was also up by 25% to a rate of over one house built per day. There’s room to grow, but we are trending up.
The City budget this last year was very tough. We were handed over $10 million of costs from the State of Arizona from items like Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and the management fees for the Arizona Department of Revenue. This left the council no means to address the remaining labor market study for the City employees.
Still, the City has been working over the years to improve effectiveness of each dollar spent. This last year alone we have secured rights to 1 megawatt of power from the Hoover Dam, 1.6 megawatts of site-generated solar, and entered into a power purchase agreement that freezes our electricity rates for 20 years, saving about $400,000 annually. In addition, we have begun the conversion of our lights to LED bulbs, cutting power consumption by 50%.
We have brought on AmeriCorp VISTA volunteers to work needed projects for the City such as our Anti-Meth program and our community entrepreneurial efforts. We hired two grant writers who have brought in $5.6 million in additional grant revenues. And we have extended the use of our State Work Program with the Yuma Prison inmates to stretch the City’s maintenance dollars.
Our economic development had a busy year. Sales tax is a strong indication of the strength of the local economy. We have had a year-over-year increase in sales tax of 6.5%, far exceeding our projections of 2% and outpacing the 3% growth of the previous 3 years. Our economic development efforts have resulted in $10 million of investment and new payroll this year throughout the region. Regionally, we have had an impact. Having established relationships from Mexico City to Hermosillo, from San Luis Rio Colorado to Mexicali, the Yuma area needed to form an identity for the international arena. In conjunction with the Cities of San Luis and Somerton, the Town of Wellton and Yuma County, the 4FrontED organization was formed to promote our region at a global level. This is a movement forward that will build on the successes already in the Yuma area and promote all the assets of the region. We held 2nd Binational Regional Prosperity Forum with representatives from around the States of Arizona and Sonora.
All that said, the most single significant event from 2015 was the reconstruction of the Stewart Vincent Wolfe Memorial Playground. The Castle Park was destroyed by an arsonist in December of 2014. Just shy of a year later, we reopened the Castle Park that was fully funded by the insurance proceeds. From every kid to every grandparent, this park reconstruction was important to say “no” to those who would tear down our community, and “yes” to a positive future in Yuma.
Looking toward 2016, we welcomed two new council members to City Council as well as one returning member. Already this year, we had the opening of the Walmart Marketplace, the new Farley’s Market, and the new home of Amberly’s Place. We anticipate some more exciting openings later this year. So, we are starting strong.
But, there will be challenges, like the City’s budget. The market forces are working against the established salaries of many of our city positions including the well-trained, City of Yuma police officer. The market increases of healthcare and PSPRS are also substantial impacts to the budget. It will be a challenge to meet these demands.
The good news is the State legislature will be voting on a measure to return the full Highway User Revenue Fund for this next year. While it may only be for one year, it’s a move in the right direction for the care and maintenance of our roads.
The most exciting areas that I anticipate great things is through our AmeriCorp VISTA volunteers. Jeff Oates is leading our United for Yuma anti-meth program, “Don’t Meth with Yuma”. He is bringing together the existing organizations and efforts to work with new organizations to develop new approaches as well as enhance existing approaches in developing a culture that does not accept the use of methamphetamines in the Yuma community. The program is underway with over 50 organizations and hundreds of people involved. Expect to see more and to see ways to get involved in the near future.
The second VISTA volunteer doing amazing things in Yuma is Bob Cuckler. He is assembling an entrepreneurial program to help develop the talent in Yuma as well as attract new talent to Yuma. He is working with existing organizations like Northern Arizona University, NextGen and the SBA Small Business Development Center. I am pleased to announce that we are launching the first program within the next two months.
Yuma is changing. Yuma is growing. Be part of that change. Thank you for all those who continue to be involved and stay United for Yuma.