Mayor Tim Reed (right) clicks through a PowerPoint presentation Tuesday as he delivers his 2012 State of the City address. Looking on are city councilors Mike McClemans an Ope Niemeyer. Photo by Ken Curley/Register
BROOKINGS – "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" is an old Timbuk3 tune from the '80s, but it was the song Brookings Mayor Tim Reed was singing this week as he delivered his State of the City message for 2012.
"The last three years I've done this," he said, "we've had to be cautious. This is the first year I'm not going to be so cautious. " I think this is a good time to put our sunglasses on because our future is very bright."
Reed's upbeat and optimistic address was one of the highlights of Tuesday's city council session.
The city's financial health and the economic outlook are both good and getting better, the mayor told the council and assembled citizens.
He credited the current success to "a community of leaders, working together " who will continue to bring great things to Brookings."
At the very beginning of his address, Reed ticked off a number of indicators of the city's financial health:
• Unemployment: In the boom years of 2006-08 , local unemployment percentages hovered between 2 and 2 1/2 percent. "I don't think we'll ever return to that 2 percent," Reed commented. "I don't think we want to return to that 2 percent. But right now, we're in a comfortable range. Our year-to-date unemployment rate is 3.85 percent, and we're trending down. That downturn is positive ."
The picture is even rosier when you consider that the Bel Brands cheese making plant will soon begin hiring its 275-member startup workforce. • First-penny tax revenues: The recession has hurt the country , and it's put a damper on local growth first-penny revenues have been flat over the past several years. But Brookings seems to have weathered the storm.
"The first couple of years after the recession didn't see much growth," Reed said. "But last year, we were up 5 percent " So far this year, it's been flat, but if we stay at that level, we'll be 4 percent more than we've budgeted for" We're not back to where we were in 2008, but we are seeing some good increases."
First Penny taxes are now providing about $5 million annually.
Reed pointed to other bright spots in the city's economic picture :
• Its bond rating has improved from A2 to Aa3.
• Over the past year, Brookings has seen a 7.6 percent increase in net assets. (" This is really interesting," Reed noted. "It's probably one of the No. 1 indicators of financial health of a city.")
• The city saw an increase of $29 million in taxable valuation in 2011. (" Because of growth in a number of areas, we're still seeing significant increase in our tax base.")
• Another especially bright spot for the community has been in Third Penny growth. Tax revenues from lodging, prepared food and alcohol are climbing: they grew 10 percent last year and "we're seeing another 10 percent jump this year."
"All in all, our financial/economic (picture) is in really good shape," Reed concluded. Some funds depleted
The mayor said the only negative in his report is that "our community investment funds are depleted."
"We've made some wise infrastructure and community improvement investments with Bel Brands, road repairs and improvements and joint governmental building
"These investments will pay off in the future from the savings and the higher revenues they should produce, but that spending is constraining us on some of the infrastructure things we'd like to continue on to keep this city continually improving."
The situation is short term, Reed said, and city leaders are exploring other possibilities, such as grants and tax increment financing, to continue the kinds of community development investments that have been successful to date.
Looking back, Reed told listeners that the top accomplishments of 2011 were the city's landing Bel Brands and the city-county administrative center.
"Being a part of this (Bel Brands) project is going to bring a half-billion dollars of economic development to the eastern side of the state, Reed said, "and $160 million here in Brookings on an annual basis.
"It's good for the city of Brookings, and even though the financial investment did constrain us for a while, the city will recover its funding from the sales and property tax growth from the 275 people who'll be starting there."
Most of the "heavy lifting" was done on the city-county administrative center in 2011, Reed noted. "It just shows when a community comes together what can be done."
The fact that community leaders were ready when opportunities presented themselves was no accident, Reed said. That kind of readiness is critical in responding to changing circumstances. In explanation, the mayor drew on a quote from coaching great John Wooden: "When opportunity comes, it's too late to prepare." 2012 goals
For the rest of 2012 and the year beyond, Reed listed off a number of specific goals. First, he said, the city will partner with the Brookings Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) to update the community's strategic plan. He'll also ask BEDC to update its housing study. "It's important to know, with Bel (coming), exactly where we are," he said.
Another key goal is to grow the city's visitor industry. He said he wants to see the "Third B" revenue grow enough that it can help fund some of the Swiftel Center's operating costs, a change that would give some relief to the city's general expenditures budget . Reed said a critical need for Brookings is the 34/20 transportation project. The project, meant to improve traffic flow to and from the city's east side, includes plans to pave 34th Avenue all the way south to South Dakota Highway 324 (the road leading to the Elkton/Sinai exit on Interstate 29) and extending 20th Street South to the east (south of EdgeBrook Golf Course), leading to a new interstate overpass and then on to an intersection with 34th Avenue.
City leaders would also like to see another interstate exit for Brookings' south side, but that seems unlikely in the present funding climate.
The traffic changes are imperative to accommodate Bel Brands plant workers and other development in the community, Reed said. "We've got to do everything possible to get this done in the next five years or we're going to be in trouble with traffic in Brookings." He said the city is considering a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and "close contact with the DOT (Department of Transportation)." Downtown work ongoing
The mayor says he'll continue to improve the downtown area of the city, "small projects we can do to continue to focus on downtown that's really going to benefit this city."
He says he'll ask the Sustainability Council to focus on city policies and procedures that will make Brookings a greener community, and he'll ask city staff to continue working on its "lean government" initiative.
Later in 2012, Reed plans to create an ad hoc committee to oversee bicycle route and recreation trail improvements. It's been a year-to-year effort in the past, he explained, but he wants to see continuing activity to improve these outdoor amenities. Still another top goal is an open, even-more transparent government , with better communication with the public.
"If we're going to meet (the citizens' ) expectations of government , we've got to get them more involved in designing programs and services." That starts with better public information and communication.
As he thanked citizens, staff and council for their support, the mayor said that in 2012, he would like the council to give more support and more autonomy to City Manager Jeff Weldon, whom he said has delivered "excellent work."
"We have to continue to help his growth as our executive leader and to continue to let him bring forward items that we should be doing in this city, and support him in the things that have to be done. " As our executive leader, we have to trust him and let him start to guide us."
Weldon has been city manager for more than 4 1/2 years.
"I want to give a big thank you to the citizens of Brookings for entrusting all of us and making sure that Brookings continues to improve," Reed said finally.
"And to my fellow councilors, thank you for your previous service , and going forward. I think we're going to have a very good year." For the complete State of the City presentation, go to the city's website, www.cityofbrookings.org, and under City Council, click on Mayor Reed's page; the address is on the left-hand menu. Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@- brookingsregister.com.