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Big turnout for Santa Maria State of the City address

Santa Maria has a strong economy but the city faces challenges including revenue, affordable housing and a growing homeless population, part of the message delivered in the annual State of the City address Wednesday morning.

Santa Maria is riding a wave of strong local job growth, a low crime rate and increasing demand for commercial and residential development.

“We get calls to City Hall wanting to know what’s going on in Santa Maria, wanting to know if they can bring their company here and what’s going to fit”, said Mayor Alice Patino in her address to a large breakfast audience at the Santa Maria Inn, “there’s more places to work in Santa Maria and you’ve seen the Enos Ranch, 113 acres of new office and retail space, a huge new regional shopping center, bringing more money and taxes into town, and they’re coming from miles around.”

Patino said challenges include growing revenue, building affordable housing and homelessness but added the city is in a strong economic position compared to its neighbors to the north and south.

“We do the best we can and right now I have people saying Santa Maria is the place to come”, Patino said.

City Manager Jason Stilwell said the city is counting on voter support for Measure U in the November Midterm election which will increase the local sales tax to 8.75 percent to help pay for essential city services including public safety.

“We still have an ongoing budget challenge for the city in particular”, Stilwell said, “the City Council has the intent of maintaining the services believing that the public wants to maintain those services and it will be an opportunity this November with the Measure U election for the public to ratify that belief or not.”

Stilwell said city expenditures continue to outpace revenues, including rising employee pension costs, resulting in annual budget shortfalls.

“We’re looking at all of our revenue opportunities”, Stilwell said, “increasing and enhancing our services with high tech ways of providing the services, we are seeing development up, unemployment rate dropping from five percent to four and a half percent and we do see that with the jobs, they are hiring more people and that the people are staying in their jobs longer.”

The city is also touting its high-tech employment prospects with one of the most developed fiber optic and high speed internet networks on the Central Coast.

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