Laura Fischer Talks About The City And The Future

By: Luke Phillips
  The Holtville Tribune recently sat down with Holtville City Manager Laura Fischer to discuss the city’s accomplishments in 2009 and what the city is looking forward to in 2010. This is part 1 of a 2 part series:

TRIBUNE: What was the city’s biggest accomplishment in the past year?

LAURA FISCHER: I think it would be our water treatment plant. That whole project. It took about two years to get all the financing together and to actually get the engineering all done and certified by USDA, bonds issued and the construction going. It should be completed in April or May. But it has the biggest impact on the community because this is the largest capital improvement project we’ve had here in 20 years as far as city-wide infrastructure.
   And what it really does is improve the quality of our water. And the capacity. Because when we built the plant we only had one water tank and it’s 1.5 million gallons. We were not able to take it out of services at all so we’ve been continually using it for close to 20 years. So by adding this additional tank, which is a 2.5 million gallon tank, we add capacity, but we also add the ability to take down that old tank and refurbish it.
   That project also includes the lining of two of the three raw water ponds. And since I’ve been here, in four years, we’ve really only had one pond in service the whole time because they’ve just been dirt lined and the turbidity just turned up so much dirt that our plant wasn’t able to keep up with keeping it clean and the filtering of it. So we were just streamlining the water right through, through one pond and into the plant. And our storage of raw water was reduced considerably. So our guys now have two ponds fully cleaned and lined and we’re working on the third one. So they’re excited. They’ve never had three ponds in service for many years, so that’s great.
   The final phase on that project is to replace a leaking line that runs under the Orchard Road bridge. That water line takes services out to the county residents, but it’s leaking and it’s in such an awkward place that staff isn’t able to fix it because it’s kind of over the Alamo River and under a bridge. So that’s part of the improvement project too. I would say that is our biggest accomplishment. Even though the project isn’t finished in this calendar year, it will be in fiscal year 9/10. And that was a long project.
   The most important and the most exciting thing about that project is we have million dollars in grant. So although this is a $5 million dollar project, a million of it is grant funds. So that was wonderful. And then the timing of issuing those bonds was really great because it was right before the bond market got really tight, yet it was when the interest rates were falling, so our interest rates on those bonds are really great as well. That was really a good deal.

TRIBUNE: What priorities will you focus on next year and what do you hope to achieve?

LAURA FISCHER: Council always sets our priorities and they always set what the community’s focus should be. As far as accomplishments that people can see and feel, in our capital projects, they’re going to be taking a look at that again in January to kind of go through that list of what they want to do and how they want to prioritize it. But as far as capital projects, I can tell you that building the public safety building is probably their number one priority. That is something that they are moving forward with quickly and I certainly believe at this point that’s their goal, to get a public safety building over in the corner of Sixth and Pine.
   If your asking about economics, of course increasing our revenues is always key, but if we’re focusing on improvements and capital projects, that would be number one.

TRIBUNE: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Holtville in the next year? How will you tackle it?

LAURA FISCHER:  I think the biggest challenge to any community right now is the economic situation with the State of California, with the predictions of the Governor that they’re going to be – I’m not sure what the latest number is – $42 billion or $37 billion in deficit. By February I’ve heard they may not even be able to pay their bills. They may start issuing vouchers again.
   So how that impacts our community is going to be huge – how we’re going to face that or how we’re going to survive through that economic depression and downturn. We just need to make sure we tighten our belts and make sure what we’re doing is the best use and the most prudent use of our city and our taxpayers’ money. We need to make sure we secure the city and protect the city’s rights and assets and keep our expenses as low as possible.
   One thing that council has told me, and has made clear in our public meetings, is that our employees are valued as our largest resource here in the city. And we look at reducing any staff or any kind of impact to our staff as our last resort in balancing our budget. I think that’s important. I know that’s always some of the things that are looked at closely and at this point we hope that would be a last resort for us. That’s our biggest challenge.

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