Santa Maria leaders emphasized what’s going right in the city’s annual “State of the City” address Tuesday morning.
Speaking at the Radisson Hotel, Mayor Alice Patino and City Manager Jason Stillwell both focused on a number of key successes the city has enjoyed over the past 12 months.
“The city is stronger within the last year since we reported in 2018,” said Stillwell. “We’re seeing lower crime. We’re seeing higher economic indicators, such as lower unemployment, higher housing prices and more jobs created in the city. We’re also seeing a lot of activity with new development throughout the city as well.”
During a slide presentation, it was also pointed out Santa Maria has added to public safety, expanded city services, enhanced city technology and created better roadways.
“I believe the State of the City is doing quite well compared to some areas in the state,” said City Councilman Mike Cordero. “The Measure U passage with 74 percent of the citizenry to say that they trust what we’re doing with the money and that’s really a long ways for a long time.”
Measure U was passed by voters in November 2018. It increased sales tax to 8.75 percent starting April 1st.
“Measure U has been transformative,” said Stillwell. “The mayor mentioned that a few times how appreciative we are to have that level of voter support. I recognize that is a lot of trust that the voters have instilled in us and that we have an obligation to be able to uphold that trust. Measure U has been able to expand our police and fire services primarily. We’ve also expanded our youth programming and have been able to improve quality of life by being able to expand services.”
Thanks in large part to Measure U, 57 new positions are currently in the process of being filled.
Overall, sales tax revenue is up 7.4 percent, likely as a result of new commercial development at the Enos Ranch Center.
“We’ve continued to expand our retail regionally,” said Stillwell. “We are also a regional employment center, blessed by having a good workforce in the community, a young demographic who are the workers throughout the region. We’re also fortunate to have a regional retail center that’s allowed people to rediscover Santa Maria who haven’t been to Santa Maria in some time and to be able to expand the shopping opportunities that people in the region have.”
Other key statistics mentioned included property tax increasing by 4.9 percent. However, hotel tax dropped 3.5 percent.
While much of the address focused on what is going right in Santa Maria, both Patino and Stillwell pointed out there might be some potential bumps in the road.
“We see challenges on the horizon,” said Stillwell. “We are fighting other head winds like other communities with increases in cost, with the risk of recession. Our revenue is really based on sales tax, property tax and hotel tax, those are volatile in a recession. The state right now is strong, but we’ll see how that goes. We know that changes as well.”
Other challenges facing Santa Maria include homelessness, housing prices, sustained economic development and the upcoming 2020 census.
The city is seeking a complete count in the census by April 1st. It was noted that Santa Maria has several difficult to count neighborhoods.
The importance of an accurate count was emphasized, since it was reported each person tallied will bring in about $2,000 per year.
Another area of concern was the growing population.
It was estimated 37,000 more residents are coming in the future, so city leaders are tasked with trying to determine how to plan for future growth.
The Santa Maria State of the City address was hosted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.