Solvang’s annual State of the City report was a bit unusual this year, sort of welcoming the new while bidding a fond farewell to the old.
Concerning the former, the well-attended event introduced new Mayor Ryan Toussaint and interim City Manager Rick Haydon.
Concerning the latter, the new mayor issued “huge thanks” to outgoing and long-time Mayor Jim Richardson and City Council member Joan Jamieson, which earned those public servants an equally-huge round of applause from the audience.
In between was a decent report card on where Solvang is in a fiscal sense, a few cautionary flags, and a project the entire community may want to get in on.
First, what our city leaders see on the horizon for 2019 are views mostly laced with confidence about the future.
Solvang had total revenues of $17.3 million in the last fiscal period, with hotel bed taxes making up about a quarter of that. The other major revenue producer was charges for services, which made up nearly half of city government’s total revenue. As for Solvang’s nearly $8.8 million in general fund revenue, bed taxes accounted for 49 percent, property taxes 19 percent, and sales taxes 16 percent.
The only worrisome spot in that report was that bed-tax revenues have been essentially flat for the past four years, which in a community dependent on tourism dollars is not especially encouraging news.
But as Haydon pointed out, there is a logical explanation for the stagnant revenue stream — this region’s string of natural disasters, mostly huge wildfires, scared a lot of potential visitors away. The hotel rooms were filled with fire-fighting personnel, but while the state pays those housing costs, it does not pay city taxes that go along with the rooms.
Property and sales-tax revenues were also relatively flat over the past five years, but many local residents will celebrate that fact because it means Solvang is not being swallowed by rampant growth.
As with most cities, the biggest slice of Solvang’s total operating expense goes to salaries and benefits, followed by funds the city pays Santa Barbara County for such services as public safety.
No big surprises in the report on where the city has been, and nothing major on where it is going in 2019 and beyond.
Mayor Toussaint said there were several key issues the city will need to tackle in the coming months, including finding a new, permanent city manager, working with the Solvang Chamber of Commerce on an Economic Development Strategy Project, and bringing in a new well that will provide more groundwater access for city customers.
Also on the list of things to do are an upgrade to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, achieving storm water mandates, improvements at Solvang Park, and road repair projects. The City Council also is still working on bicycle lane development.
Now, about that community project mentioned earlier. During the meeting, local shop owner Bent Olsen earned a gold star when he suggested Solvang resurrect its living Christmas tree downtown, and sweetened his proposal by offering to put up the first $1,000 toward such a project.
Olsen’s offer started a mini-cascade, as the new mayor said he’d pony up $1,000 for a live tree, which prompted another member of the audience to rise to the occasion with a third $1,000 gift.
Those generous offers leave the city only about $12,000 short of what would be needed to get a living tree in the ground. What about it, folks? Any more tree angels out there?