Late in January, Solvang City Manager Brad Vidro delivered his annual State of the City address, and the general consensus was — nearly all is well.
There are some problem areas, as one might expect, but overall Solvang is in good shape fiscally and administratively.
Vidro had some technical snags to overcome in his delivery, but in the end the news was good, and folks gathered to hear his report were generally pleased.
The technical issues Vidro faced became a standup joke for Buellton City Manager Marc Bierdzinski when he delivered his report. When it comes to the near-twin cities of Solvang and Buellton, a little friendly ribbing is always in order.
The important thing was Bierdzinski’s State of the City, like Vidro’s, was encouraging.
A large crowd at the luncheon enjoyed a brief history of city business development presented by Buellton Mayor Holly Sierra, recreation coordinator Kyle Abello’s video recap of last year’s Buellton Recreation activities — which were impressively extensive — and two award presentations by the Chamber of Commerce.
Bierdzinski carried the business recap a few steps further, explaining that about half of Buellton’s top-25 sales tax-producing and top-10 property tax-producing businesses are locally owned and operated.
That’s not to disparage national chain operations, but having such a high concentration of local businesses is a sure sign of stability. Those owners live here, so are more likely to stay. And besides, there is something special about shopping at a locally-owned store. It just feels good to know the profits from those businesses are staying home.
That is especially important as commerce expands north and south of our little slice of heaven. Santa Maria is now aggressively pursuing more retail, so its residents won’t have to make the trek to Goleta or Santa Barbara to buy major stuff.
Bierdzinski also detailed a lot of new projects in the works for Buellton, including a more complete development along Industrial Way, including some mixed-use projects that could be major plusses for the city and its shoppers.
The Live Oak Lanes bowling alley project is still rumbling along, after being sent back to the developer for some fixes, and work should begin on that recreation complex sometime next year.
Perhaps Bierdzinski’s best news was about the city finances, projected at $6.6 million in revenue, which is about $300,000 more than is expected in expenses. Any time a city can generate enough revenue to leave a surplus, both the city and its taxpayers are ahead of the game. The surplus could grow, since Bierdzinski anticipates greater-than-expected increases in sales, property and bed taxes.
But like every local government in Santa Barbara County, Buellton has an 800-pound gorilla standing in the wings — the mandated, but unfunded retirement costs of its workers. Buellton is in better shape than most local governments in this regard, but mostly because of its size compared to others.
Bierdzinski assured the crowd at the State of the City event that Buellton’s pension benefits obligations are “manageable,” given the city’s budgetary position.
The other shady area is the city’s situation with regard to its water and sewer enterprise revenues, which are not sufficient to cover expenses. Bierdzinski pointed the finger at what had essentially been a static rate structure for the past decade and a half, until recent rate increases. Those helped, but didn’t solve the problem. Further increasing water/sewer rates is a political issue, and a subject for a future debate.
Every government has issues, and the bigger the government, the bigger the problems. That’s one of the joys of living in a small town.