http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2009/04/03/danville-facing-challenges-head-on


Danville Express

Cover Story - April 3, 2009

Danville facing challenges head on

Mayor Arnerich paints positive picture in State of the Town address

by Geoff Gillette

While the economic waters are roiling at the county, state and federal levels, Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich says the town is navigating a course through the rough times and sees opportunities and challenges in the years ahead.

Arnerich offered up that message in the annual State of the Town speech, delivered to a packed house at the Crow Canyon Country Club on March 17.

In the speech, delivered to members of the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce, Arnerich gave a balanced take on the current status of Danville, where the economic climate is affecting the town and where difficulties may lie.

Economic challenges

"One of our challenges will be the library," he explained. "Our library has the largest circulation in Contra Costa County as part of the library system, and it was actually built by the Town of Danville. It is largely funded through our property taxes."

Arnerich said the problem is that the tax revenues are collected by the county and the town is working to recover those funds.

"We are fighting to get that money back. And this year that money is not going to come back. It's going to be a challenge in how we the council are going to keep the library open."

Danville currently contracts out around 60 percent of its services, primarily in the areas of police protection and maintenance. Arnerich said those fund costs are continuing to rise.

At the same time, revenues brought in to the general fund through property taxes are falling. Currently in Danville there are 202 homes for sale with a median price of $929,000. Foreclosure numbers have risen, showing that Danville is not impervious to the trying times.

Estimates are projecting a 3 percent drop in property tax revenues for the next fiscal year.

"There are reductions everywhere," Arnerich stated, "and it is having a ripple effect that is making us all look at things in a totally different way."

Arnerich said that the 3 percent drop is bad, but without careful planning, it could have been a lot worse.

"I don't want to pick on Antioch, but I just happen to know their numbers. In the city of Antioch, property taxes have dropped 20 percent," he said.

Another financial bullet the town will need to dodge is the potential loss of further state revenues. Lawmakers are looking at the possibility of pulling more funds away from the cities in order to make up for an expected $8 billion shortfall in the recently approved budget.

This could translate into a loss of millions of dollars. Arnerich said that while those figures are tiny on the state's scale, for Danville it means a lot more.

"In a city the size of Danville, when the state comes in and says I'm going to take $2 million, that's an enormous amount of money," he claimed. He added that fortunately, some years back the town adopted a much more conservative strategy toward spending.

"Danville is one of the most cost-effective cities in Northern California," Arnerich explained. "Last year was the first time since 1995 we reduced our budget. It was a forecast. This year it's different." In the coming budget planning sessions, the town will be looking at a budget reduced by $2.4 million.

Arnerich said they will be discussing how they intend to plan for such a sizable loss of revenue.

"It's balancing capital," he said. "It's balancing hiring freezes and wage freezes. Nobody is unaffected. The economy is in unique circumstances and we need to respond to that."

Opportunities

Facing so many challenges in the year ahead has also opened the door to opportunities, which the town will be pursuing vigorously. The first is already in progress - a cooperative effort among the five Tri-Valley cities to engage federal dollars for a number of projects.

"It's about dollars, it's about resources and the sharing of those and how it's going to impact us," Arnerich stated.

He described the recent effort by the Tri-Valley mayors to meet with legislators in Washington, D.C., to seek out assistance for projects like road improvements in the I-580 corridor and a new emergency communication system linking up 49 jurisdictions in Northern California.

"It takes an effort way beyond Danville's borders to be able to participate in things like that. It takes lobbying, and if you're not in that arena you're going to lose," he said.

Locally, the council is already examining ways to reduce spending, including putting some contract services up for review. The council recently approved the hiring of a firm to look at the current police contract between Danville and the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department. The consultant will look at the costs of using the service and compare it to hiring out their own police force or participating in a joint powers agreement with neighboring Orinda and Lafayette.

A new stimulus package recently unveiled by the town is another way it is working to keep dollars flowing. The package will help a total of 25 businesses in the downtown retail district, allowing up to $7,500 in grant monies for building improvements. Other retailers will be able to avail themselves of workshops on marketing as well as meeting with consultants to help with branding so that more people become aware of the business district.

In addition, the town has launched a Web site called Danville In-Style (www.danvilleinstyle.com), which will provide business owners a place to tout their services as well as make them available to popular Internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

Public safety

Arnerich lauded the town's police services, saying that Danville has some of the lowest crime statistics in the area.

"One of the things our Police Department is most proud of is when we saw three years ago traffic accidents were on the rise," he said. "What Chief (Chris) Wenzel and his staff did is they went out there and enforced the laws and you can see the result. Accidents are down."

He did say they are still seeing high numbers in some areas. According to police, the No. 1 problem is speeding, closely followed by burglaries. Police have been seeing a steady stream of car and home burglaries throughout Danville.

Arnerich said burglary rates will vary with the economy, but he said that something that makes the figures high is convenience. "Burglaries are still 90 percent caused by convenience. Leaving cars unlocked, garage doors open."

He noted that another figure that tends to rise during a bad economy is DUI arrests. He said the average blood alcohol level in a DUI arrest is 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit, but that is increasing as well. One interesting statistic he pointed to was the age of many arrested for DUI's.

"The average age is 37," he reported. "The perception is that it's kids. It's not kids, it's adults."

Another public safety area the town has been looking at is parking. A new parking study was recently completed and Arnerich said it contained some interesting figures.

"We found that 53 percent of the spaces are unoccupied on average," he said. The study also showed that 54 percent of the parking spaces in "old town" are on private property.

Two other factors are being addressed. One is that many feel the two-hour time limit is not long enough. The town is examining this and may increase the limit on some spaces in town.

The second factor is that many of the spaces in front of businesses are supposed to be used by customers but instead are being occupied by employees.

"You know how we know that?" Arnerich asked. "We stood out there and watched."

Community involvement

According to Arnerich, it is the programs and the special events in Danville that makes it a truly special place to live. He pointed to such efforts as the Street Smarts program, which helps educate school age children on vehicle safety; FundaField, the student led program to provide soccer fields for youths in Africa; and Traffix, a Measure J funded program beginning next fall that will provide bus services to some schools in the district.

"Danville continues to have the most fantastic programs for everyone from children up to our seniors," he said. "We are the provider for this area."

Residents also get the opportunity to participate in numerous special events during the year. Hot Summer Nights, the International Children's Film Festival and the tree lighting ceremony are annual events. Arnerich said the town also pulls out all the stops for special circumstances like the massive gathering on the Town Green for the return of Capt. Sullenberger or Operation Welcome Home, the recent event held to honor returning Army Spc. Robert D. Maggio.

"We're so proud of the things we've been able to do to recognize the people of our town," he enthused.

What lies ahead

One of the big things on the horizon for Danville is the upcoming renovation/reconstruction of the downtown Veterans Memorial Building. Many meetings have been held over the past few years regarding the property. At one point there was talk of razing the historic structure and constructing a brand new building elsewhere. Arnerich said after much discussion the veterans chose to remain downtown.

Town officials worked with Contra Costa County to purchase the property, and now the town and the veterans are working together to renovate the existing building.

"It is going to be the largest project we've ever done in the history of Danville," Arnerich said. The town will be putting $5 million toward the project, with the veterans providing the remaining $2 million of the estimated cost.

Arnerich noted that a committee made up of town officials, veterans and seniors is working to get the project moving.

"There's a lot of people working on this," he said. "We're very fortunate we've got a great committee overseeing this and working on the designs, similar to what we did for the library. We're expecting to see construction start a year from now."

Mayor Arnerich made it clear that Danville is a great place to be, while experiencing the joys of everyday life or facing tough economic challenges. He is confident that the town will stay on course.

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