Strand hopes new perspectives yield better solutions

Outlook on 2018: Part 3 in a Series

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Strand hopes new  perspectives yield better solutionsAs the chapter closed on 2017, leaders in local government, education, health care and economic development reflected on the successes and defeats of the past year while identifying challenges and opportunities in the coming year. Watch next week’s edition for the final installment of this series!

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The last calendar year saw a new manager, police chief, public works director, economic development director and planner cycle into leadership at the city of Ridgecrest (and at press time, recruitment was ongoing for a new finance director).

“So we basically had a complete turnover in the head of every single department at City Hall,” said City Manager Ron Strand.

“Of course there are challenges that come with undergoing so many changes at once, but we are looking at this as an opportunity to bring new perspective to old problems in hopes of creating better solutions. That’s what 2018 is going to be about.”

Those sweeping personnel changes came against a backdrop of high-profile issues that have set the city on a crossroads for future planning and development.

With the passage of last year’s state gas tax, the city stands to see an additional $500,000 to $700,000 in funding each year. When compounded with Measure V (the continuation of the local tax to augment spending on public safety and roadways), Strand said, the city’s position to address its backlog of street improvements.

“One of the other things we are looking at for the next fiscal year is improving the way we look at road maintenance,” said Strand. “We think if we do more in-house, we can make our dollars go farther.”

Last year newly elected City Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens proposed that the city purchase equipment for road construction, which she believed would save money in the long run, when contrasted with the cost of hiring contractors.

“If we hire a couple more people, and purchase a small amount of equipment, I think that will allow us to more efficiently address our needs.”

For the first time in more than a decade, the city also installed brand-new equipment at Pearson and Upjohn parks. Other investments include the outdoor theater — which has facilitated popular community movie nights at Freedom Park — and the pending installation of a splash pad for use during the warm months.

While the city was able to use one-time redevelopment monies to fund those purchases, Strand said that Ridgecrest currently has no way to maintain leisure infrastructure for the long term.

The council is considering a parks assessment, which would levy a property tax at an annual cost of $49 for the average homeowner, to fund maintenance.

“Maintaining and improving our facilities is an important component of quality of life in our community,” said Strand, adding that vibrant community resources also aid in ongoing efforts for economic development.

“The results of our survey indicate there is a strong public interest in maintaining what we have, but not in building anything new.”

He acknowledged that successful passage depended on the city’s ability to incorporate public input and create a plan that inspires confidence among stakeholders.

“I ask that the public show up, stay engaged and share their input. At the end of the day, we want to end up with a proposal that reflects our community’s needs and support.”

In the last 18 months, the Walmart Super Center, Tractor Supply Co. and Harbor Freight Tools have all opened their doors in the community. More retailers are reportedly on their way.

But for many, the creation of new industry — not just services competing for the same local dollars — is critically important for the longterm health of the community.

Leadership at the city council level remains divided concerning the development of a casino by the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.

While proponents are hoping to attract tourists and create new revenue sources to augment city revenues, opponents are concerned that certain liabilities outweigh potential gains.

This year the city will also take the leadership role in the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority — a massive, multi-agency organization tasked with creating (and funding) a state-mandated plan for water sustainability.

“This is one of the biggest issues we dealt with last year, and now we will be taking the lead,” said Strand. (See related story, page 1.)

Strand said that one focus at City Hall in the months since he has taken over is to examine the city’s dealings with the public in hopes of improving services and efficiencies in our community.

“We are making strides, but there are a lot of things we still want to accomplish,” he said.

Story First Published: 2018-01-19