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April 22, 2009 > Newark urged to 'Go the Distance'

Newark urged to 'Go the Distance'

In his inimitable style, Mayor David Smith, gave his 2009 State of the City address to a full house at the Newark Hilton Hotel on Thursday, April 16. The lunchtime audience was first treated to the sounds of YOWZA, a group composed of current and retired City employees and introductions by host organization, Newark Chamber of Commerce.

The State of the City Address Team of Gretchen Burgess, Laurie Gebhard, Angela Montez and Kathy Slafter once again compiled an entertaining presentation, but the subject of finances was painful for Mayor Smith to deliver and for the audience to hear. Beginning with a reference to "The Daffodil Principle" which relates the story of Gene and Dale Bauer who planned and planted a unmatched garden only to see it ravaged by a wildfire beyond their control. Through determination and hard work, the garden was restored.

Using this as a metaphor, the mayor spoke of the past accomplishments of Newark but outlined a bleak picture of declining revenues and a "structural deficit" of $2.1 million in the current fiscal year plus $3.3 million for the next. Smith warned that staff cuts, service reductions and volunteer efforts will not be enough to bridge these troubled waters. Sales tax and hotel tax revenues have declined almost 10 percent over the last year and interest earnings have plummeted 35 percent. The mayor exclaimed, "We are in the fight of our lives."

Increased volunteer assistance, staff pay-cuts and reorganization efforts will not overcome the wildfire of this economy. Even with what is known of Newark's share of funds from the Federal Stimulus Package - $900,000 in Highway Infrastructure; $173,200 for Energy Efficiency Projects; $97,000 for law enforcement support; $94,000 Community Development - without new revenue sources, Mayor Smith says, "expenses will have to be cut further and we know that will seriously impact our already reduced service levels." Police Chief, James Leal, has reorganized divisions and work assignments; Fire Chief Demetrious Shaffer is studying the feasibility of consolidation with neighboring departments and Public Works is reducing its level of service for maintenance, reducing counter hours and increasing service turnaround times.

In spite of the economic turmoil, Newark continues to recognize the importance of community spirit and self-supporting recreational programs. Grants, fees and volunteer efforts are responsible for maintenance of venues such as the Silliman Family Aquatic Center which will celebrate its fifth anniversary with special Friday night activities and a grand celebration on Friday, July 10. Licensed child care, Ash Street Park Summer Recreation Program, Family Day, Corporate Games, Senior programs, afterschool P.L.A.Y. (Providing leisure Afterschool for Youths), Walk the Talk, Para-transit and Music at the Grove are all scheduled to provide fun and welcome relief from weighty economic issues.

With some positive signs of economic development in the business sector including additions and growth of BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Day Star Technologies, Inc. Revance Therapeutics, Inc., Risk Management Solutions, FedEx Ground, InSound, Coast Aluminum, SMART Modular Technologies, a new Chevrolet dealership and planned residential developments, Newark's future holds promise. Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology with an enrollment of over 3,000 students holds the distinction of being the only college in the world with Platinum Certification for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Smith, referring again to the ravaged daffodil fields, added another metaphor by choosing theme music from the film, Rocky II - "Going the Distance" - said, "Newark's garden will bloom once again" followed by "Like a true fighter, we've shown that we can take a punch... and keep fighting!"

"It comes down to this," said Smith; "we need to generate new revenue." Options noted included a Utility User Tax, Sales Tax or Emergency 9-1-1 fee. One of these will most likely be on the November ballot, seen as "our only option to see our way through these challenging economic times." He urged citizens to "climb in the ring with us to win this fight."

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