Somber tone for state of the city address |

Somber tone for state of the city address

Dylan Silver

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In the first “State of the City” address, Mayor Hal Cole focused on a strategy he believes will save South Lake Tahoe from financial collapse, improving the city’s infrastructure. But, the speech wasn’t exactly uplifting.

With layoffs, cuts and fee increases waiting on a city council vote in the upcoming budget, the mayor’s speech was received by a somber audience.

“South Lake Tahoe has faced many challenges, but the current malaise is the most difficult we’ve ever faced,” Cole told the two dozen people in the audience. “We are a resilient and strong community. We will recover from these challenges.”

While noting South Lake Tahoe’s dismal financial outlook, the speech signaled the city council’s move towards balancing the personnel and the infrastructure needs of the city.

“The city mirrors that of the county, state and national economy, with one notable exception, we are presently solvent and we do have a plan,” he said.

Cole laid out a five-part, five-year plan. Generally, the plan includes solving the city’s fiscal deficit, continuing to provide the core services, rebuilding the infrastructure, providing open and transparent government and restoring pride in the community.

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Cole vowed that he would work with city manager Tony O’Rourke to pass a sound budget – a feat accomplished just a few hours later in the city council meeting. He discussed the necessity and extent of the then proposed layoffs.

“It is anticipated that this will be the extent of the layoffs,” he said.

He noted the number of city staff has dropped from 238 three years ago to a 168 with the layoffs today.

But despite the layoffs, the mayor insisted that the core services the city provides, fire, police and snow removal, would continue.

“We will not abandon these services,” he said.

Mayor Cole then spoke on the subject of improving the city’s infrastructure, the most important message in the speech, he said.

“We must rebuild our town,” Cole said. “We must provide a product we are proud of.”

Cole said he would like to focus on the town’s economic base: tourism. Better streets, more bikeways, parks and preservation of the lake’s clarity will draw tourists to Tahoe, the mayor said.

“The natural environment is what people enjoy most about Lake Tahoe,” he said.

With this, he did find agreement in the crowd.

“We’re encouraged to see Mayor Cole support tourism as South Lake Tahoe’s primary economic driver, and step up with a concrete plan to improve the city infrastructure to improve the experience for both locals and visitors,” said Pete Sonntag, general manager of Heavenly Mountain Resort, who was in attendance.

The city’s 2011-2012 budget includes $5 million for infrastructure improvements. Cole also mentioned the council is considering a $25 million loan to fund such improvements.

After touching on maintaining a transparent government and restoring and demonstrating pride through events, the mayor ended with a few things he would personally like to see, among them more public-private partnerships, more neighborhood partnerships and a nice winter event.

“One thing I think this town is missing is a really true winter event,” he said.

He finished by announcing that the speech would likely be his last as mayor.

“I can’t be more proud of this city and more humble to you for trusting you with the job you gave me.”