By Luke Phillips
Holtville City Manager Alex Meyerhoff hosted the first in a series of what he calls strategic planning meetings Wednesday night at City Hall with the ultimate goal of creating a work plan for city staff.
The first meeting was comprised of 10-minuate presentations by various city departments explaining what they do, what large projects their department is working on and what major challenges they face. It was attended by members of the city council, the planning commission and the public.
“This meeting is entirely for me to learn about the different city departments,” Meyerhoff said. “This is an opportunity to do some information gathering.”
Meyerhoff said the goal of the first meeting was to “find a common understanding of where we’re at.” He says the next meeting will be a brainstorming session, the third meeting will be used to develop a work plan and set goals for the next year, and the last meeting will be a review of that plan. Meyerhoff also said that there would be multiple opportunities for public input at all of the meetings.
The first presentation up was on the city’s public safety departments. Meyerhoff gave a brief overview of the city’s contract with the Imperial Valley Sheriff’s Office before turning the floor over to Fire Chief Alex Silva, who gave a detailed report on the city’s fire department.
Silva described the personnel and equipment utilized by the department and explained the role they plan in the community. He also shared his hopes for the future of the department.
“I would like to have another fire station to provide adequate bedding for our guys,” Silva said. He says the present facilities has sleeping quarters, but no kitchen.
“We’d like to provide a little bit better accommodations for them,” he said.
Silva also addressed the need for a new, modern Emergency Operations Center for the city. Currently the Civic Center at City Hall is used as a command center in case of a community emergency, but the building doesn’t have back-up generators. Silva said that having an emergency Wi-Fi connection at the EOC is also important.
“Facebook can get information out faster than we can,” he said. “That internet media needs to be tapped into.”
City Public Works Supervisor Matt Hughes took the podium to give the audience an overview of the city’s animal control program, which he says is seriously lacking.
Hughes admitted that animal control in the city is a serious problem, but told the audience that the city doesn’t have the resources the need to take care of the problem and sought direction from the council.
“We have one part time employee that does his best, but we’re just a reactionary group,” Hughes said. “Every year the problem gets worse.”
Meyerhoff called the situation a public health issue, reminding the audience that a rabid bat was found in Holtville last week.
The council wasn’t able to immediately provide Hughes with the direction he sought and no answer to the problem was suggested, but Hughes said it would need to be addressed sooner or later because of increased pressure from the county Humane Society, who is currently taking strays from the city.
“They are really urging us and would like us to do more ourselves,” Hughes said.
Hughes moved on to address needs at the city’s water treatment plant. He says the building and plant are in generally good shape, but a new, more modern control system is needed.
“The system we have is 20-years-old,” he said. “It’s not failing, but it does need to be upgraded to something more modern.”
Hughes says that the city’s 17 miles of water delivery pipelines are also in generally good shape because of repairs and maintenance that has been completed throughout the years. He says that most of the city’s old cast iron pipes have been replaced and new valves and equipment were installed every time a major water main broke and had to be repaired.
“The distribution system is not in need of much,” he said.
City Engineer Jack Holt said that the last water master plan created by the city was in 1997 and that $200,000 in upgrades were recommended, but not all of them were completed.
“We have done a lot of improvements and the system is generally in good shape, but it’s aging and that’s something you’ll want to keep in mind.”
Huges gave a report on the city’s streets which he called “the best in the Imperial Valley” and praised the city’s continued maintenance, and also talked about parks and addressed the need for a full-time recreation supervisor.
“It kept the kids involved and it’s something that we could probably use,” he said.
Meyerhoff pointed out that 31 percent of the city’s population is under the age of 21 and said that there are not enough sports fields in the city to meet the demand. He told the council that they may want to consider building a soccer park or general sports facility at some point in the future as a way to meet the demand and bring more economic activity to the city.
City planner Justina Arce reviewed the duties of the city’s planning department which include grant writing and administration, community development and implementation, building and land use permits and code enforcement.
“Quality of life is one of our goals,” she said. “And securing funding for the projects that increase quality of life.”
She pointed to the city’s Alamo River Trail project as an example of how grant funding can benefit the community.
Holt reviewed the city’s main capitol improvement projects including the construction of a new sewer outfall main and wastewater treatment facility, street improvements at 4th Street and Hwy. 115 and the reconstruction of the city’s 1.5 million-gallon water tank that was damaged in last year’s 7.2 earthquake.
Holt called the wastewater treatment plant one of the “hot-button” issues facing the city and reminding them that the current facility is not meeting effluent water standards set by the state. According to Holt, the city has a strict deadline in 2014 to finish constructing the new facility or they could face fines of up to $30,0000 per month.
The four capitol improvement projects have a total price tag of more than $13 million dollars.
“These are your big money commitments,” Holt said.
New city Finance Manager Nick Wells said that he’s had a “baptism by fire” dealing with multiple audits of the city and preparing for the possible loss of nearly half of the city’s revenues.
“The budget’s the big deal and dealing with the challenge of have double digit funds that could go away,” Wells said. Wells was referring to the possible loss of RDA funds as the state tightens it’s belt and the potential loss of the city’s utility tax which residents will vote to keep or get rid of this November.
City Clerk Genn Snyder told the audience that the city’s record management system is in extreme need of updating.
“We need a major clean-up,” she said. “We get a lot of public information requests and it’s almost impossible to respond to those demands.”
Snyder says that nearly 100 years of records need to be organized, purged and scanned into a computer.
“We need to destroy the ones we don’t need and organize the ones we do need,” she said.
Snyder told the council that organizing the records will be a long, hard process and suggested that a temporary employee be hired to help out.
Meyerhoff says a date is still being worked out for the city’s next strategic planning meeting, but a solid date and a rough agenda should be available in time for next week’s issue of the Holtville Tribune.
By Luke Phillips