Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vacaville-area leaders: 2010 won't be great, but better than '09

Vacaville-area leaders: 2010 won't be great, but better than '09
By Ryan Chalk
Posted: 12/31/2009 01:00:24 AM PST

Crews work Wednesday on stucco and roofing at one of many Seeno Homes under construction along Parkside Drive in Vacaville's North Village. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)
As 2009 slips away, local leaders are looking into their crystal balls to see what 2010 will have in store, and, by the sound of it, what they're seeing is not pretty.

The financial meltdown on Wall Street that sparked the so-called Great Recession, sending ripples all the way down to the doorsteps of every American, has kept area civic and education leaders awake at night trying to figure out how to cope. But while most will be happy to place 2009 squarely in the sights of their rearview mirrors, some remain wary about the coming days, weeks and months.

Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine said he is "cautiously optimistic" about what lies ahead. With the state's finances in shambles -- and no sign of help -- he is concerned the state will continue to pinch money from cities and counties.

Vacaville, like the cities that surround it, has been slammed by the downturn in property tax and sales tax revenue. While Augustine predicts more of the same in 2010, there have been a few reasons to smile.

New restaurants such as Sonic Drive-In and El Pollo Loco are close to opening and building permit applications jumped a little toward the end of 2009.

"A big concern of a lot of cities is jobs, not just the budget," Augustine said.

Other positives include the construction at Solano Community College's Vacaville Center and new businesses are still opening in downtown Vacaville, said Augustine.

"I don't look at 2010 as being a great year. I look at it as I hope it will be a better year," Augustine said. "All in all, we're lucky to have what we do here."

In Dixon, the story is much the same.

Like Augustine, Dixon Mayor Jack Batchelor said that it will be another year of watching every penny spent.

"We will continue to be like every other city and continue to have to make reductions to our expenditures," Batchelor said.

While Dixon is in good shape financially for now, Batchelor said he'll be keeping his fingers crossed after a year of watching sizable sums of money get held hostage by the state.

Like Vacaville, Dixon will be looking to spur development in 2010, and, with several projects in the pipeline, including a proposed senior housing development and a truck stop/travel plaza, there is reason to smile.

Batchelor said, no matter what, it will be very important to maintain public safety in Dixon and commended the city's police and fire departments.

"We will continue to provide a high level of service to the residents of Dixon," Batchelor said.

Local education leaders lament the loss of millions of dollars in state funding and local revenues as well.

Roger Halberg, Dixon Unified School District superintendent, said that the goal for 2010 would be to work to rebuild the core principles of the district.

But that goal may not be realized this year.

Halberg estimates another $1.5 million cut to Dixon Unified after the state's own budget morass has reduced the district's budget by roughly $5 million in the past year.

Also, as a new Program Improvement district, the state is not offering funding help, leaving the district to try and raise test scores with reduced resources. Although the district is performing well as a whole, there are subgroups -- such as English learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students -- that need the support, according to Halberg.

"It's a lot of stress on all of our staff," he noted.

Also, with the challenges wrought by the state funding crisis, staff morale will also be a priority for Halberg in 2010.

"I know and feel the same stress that the community feels and it's only going to get heavier," Halberg said.

Given the challenges, Halberg commends all district employees.

"I'm really pleased to work with people who are willing to pull together to work for the kids," he said.