Guest opinion: It takes a community to make a difference

Nancy Kerry
Guest opinion

As 2013 draws to a close, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of many this year. It was just a few short years ago, in the midst of the Great Recession, both public agencies and private companies throughout the basin were in the middle of layoffs, service reductions and unemployment hovering above 17 percent. Concerns regarding economic recovery were significant. Rather than buckling under, we buckled down, got things done and prepared for recovery.

One year ago, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency adopted the Regional Plan Update resulting from an extraordinary agreement among public, private and community partners. Basin partners worked effectively in support of solutions for California’s SB 630 and Nevada’s SB 271 to ensure we continue our important partnerships. In the past few months, the first TRPA Area Plans were unanimously adopted for both Douglas County and the city.

Three economic forums produced by the Tahoe Chamber, Tahoe Prosperity Center and agency partners brought community members together to discuss issues and develop a shared vision of the future. Lake Tahoe Community College is focusing on becoming a destination college, which is a huge benefit to the community. Barton Hospital is continuing to invest in its future, investing in high-tech equipment and highly trained physicians. Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority’s outreach expanded significantly this year; they teamed up with California’s tourism commission (Visit California) and brought their expertise to the local business community. The community’s investment in Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s education system is awe-inspiring and the new facilities and programming could easily be named South Lake Tahoe’s best achievement. These are just a few of the accomplishments of our basin partners. From the California Tahoe Conservancy to the U.S. Forest Service, large and small business and residents alike, the successes of our community partners is endless and crosses all sectors. Congratulations to all, we are seemingly rowing in the right direction.

This has also been a productive year for the city. Results from resident surveys in 2011 and 2012 strongly urged the city to put its financial house in order and invest in the community. The City Council responded by adopting a strategic business plan and the city is on track to deliver on those commitments. How does $20 million sound? That’s the amount of benefit the city achieved for local taxpayers in 2013 through significant expense and long-term liability reductions ($14.5 million), new revenues and the benefit of increased tourism. The city developed a plan of action to tackle a structural deficit resulting from past budgeting practices and systemic problems associated with rising health care and pension costs. City employees took pay cuts ranging from 7 to 9 percent, accepted additional duties due to the loss of one-third of the workforce and agreed to changes in the retiree health care plan. In September of 2013, the City Council adopted a balanced budget for the first time in five years without layoffs, cutbacks or using reserves. And, we’re closing out last fiscal year with a $1 million net positive balance.

The summer of 2013 also saw the largest amount of capital investment in many years — more than $30 million, including the $11 million dollar Bijou Erosion Control project, Pioneer Trail improvements and the revitalized Linear Park. The long-awaited Harrison Avenue public-private partnership project is out to bid with a planned May 2014 ground breaking. The city recently purchased two parcels in the industrial area, which will eventually be the home of the public works division opening up opportunities to invest in recreation facilities around the campground and Recreation Center on Rufus Allen. For the first time, El Dorado County, Douglas County and the city are working in partnership to improve the delivery of recreation to our residents and visitors through a master planning process.

It is clear from this sampling of accomplishments that in just a few short years we as a community have moved the light from being at the end of the tunnel to now glistening on the horizon. Although the economic forecast remains uncertain, with community involvement, effective partnerships and a focused strategy, we can achieve the future we envision.

Thank you for your continued partnership and collaboration. I extend my best wishes to you and your families for a blessed holiday season and happy new year.

— Nancy Kerry is the city manager of South Lake Tahoe.

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