KING CITY — King City officials recently presented the annual State of the City Address, during which they discussed the progress the city has made over the past year, from beautifying the downtown area to lessening the city’s debt to reducing gang violence in the community.

The Jan. 31 event, co-sponsored by the King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture and the local Rotary Club, featured presentations from Mayor Mike LeBarre, City Manager Steve Adams and Police Chief Robert Masterson, who all spoke about the city’s recent efforts and future plans.

“The last few years have been a lot of work, but we’re starting to see some significant progress,” said LeBarre, who kicked off the hour-long address inside the Orradre Building at Salinas Valley Fairgrounds.


City improvements

One of the more noticeable changes made in the past year are the improvements to downtown. As part of the city’s facade enhancement program, some businesses along Broadway Street received a grant to revamp the outside of their buildings, resulting in new awnings and fresh coats of paint. The city also added more streetlights around town, introduced a new tree-trimming program and installed the first set of wind sculptures.

Through a partnership with King City in Bloom, new planter boxes and a seating area were recently completed in front of City Hall. According to LeBarre, the volunteer group is also in the midst of planning historic murals at key locations in the future.

“We’ve been seeing a great turnaround,” LeBarre said. “When a city gets beautified, people are more appreciative, they have more respect and they enjoy the surroundings.”

LeBarre then moved on to discuss the cannabis industry and the impacts it will have locally.

“We have made significant progress in bringing in new, high-quality cannabis industry businesses because we believe it’s very important that we have not only the understanding of what they’re doing, but they also have to have the business expertise to survive,” he said.

The City of King has already received applications for 18 cannabis cultivation licenses, as well as nine for manufacturing, seven for distribution and five for nurseries. More applications are expected this year.

“The next few months we’re looking at another 10 cultivation, another nursery and three more manufacturing,” LeBarre said.

Revenues from the local cannabis industry — which could be in the millions — will be used for one-time expenses and grant programs, rather than be incorporated into the city’s general fund since it is still too soon to tell how much the city will actually receive.

“We want to get a few years of experience on what these revenues will look like until we’re comfortable with the consistency before we roll that into the budget and start making permanent decisions,” LeBarre said.

He also briefly discussed the city’s grant application for a multi-modal transit station that would connect with California’s transit network; new affordable housing for agricultural workers; the Congregated Choice Aggregation Program, which is expected to launch later this year; and the upcoming 2018 Amgen Tour of California in May, when King City will be one of the bike tour’s host cities.


Financial challenges

City Manager Steve Adams revealed the city’s new mission statement — “Meeting the needs of our entire community through caring, professional and responsive services” — before diving into its current financial and infrastructure challenges.

“The most simple way to describe the state of the city is that we’re making significant progress, but we are also continuing to face significant challenges, and that’s certainly the case as it pertains to the city’s finances,” Adams said.

According to Adams, the city has had two balanced budgets in a row and has been able to cut its negative fund balance in half, from $5 million to $2.5 million, in a two-year period. The city council recently adopted a long-range plan to reduce that debt even further by an additional $500,000 per year in order to reach a positive fund balance in five years. The plan also includes the goal of establishing a 20-percent reserve fund in 10 years.

“We’re working on trying to get the city out of debt gradually, while at the same time trying to find ways to fund our most important needs in the community,” Adams said. “We think we’re on the right track.”

In addition, the city is looking into increasing the local sales tax by an additional half-cent. Currently King City and Gonzales have a half-cent sales tax, the lowest rate in Monterey County, while Greenfield has the highest at 1 3/4-cents with Soledad at 1 cent. The increase would need to be approved by voters.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to achieve long-term financial stability for the city. We want to get to the point where we can withstand fluctuations in the economy and unanticipated expenditures without creating a crisis for the city each time, as it has in the past,” Adams said.

He also brought up the city’s wastewater system, which is outdated and needs to be redone to meet future projected demand capacity. He said the task will be the “most expensive project the city has ever undertaken” and includes upgrading sewer pipes and constructing a new wastewater treatment plant.


Combating violence

Police Chief Robert Masterson talked about the city’s Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Violence, which was established to help reduce gang activity and youth violence in town. He said the city has accomplished or is in the process of accomplishing 16 of the 22 goals listed in the plan.

One of the goals was to start ProYouth, an after-school program that now serves nearly 200 students.

“Thanks to ProYouth and their partnership, gang violence is down,” Masterson said. “Kids are completing school on a more regular basis, and college entry levels are up. That’s a big turnaround for the community.”

He said the community has also played a part in helping to create a safer city.

“We had so many major cases last year that were solved strictly because of information provided (by the community),” he said.

The city also completed phase one of a new citywide security camera system; partnered with the school district to hire a probation officer at the high school; and started the Major Crimes Investigations Unit with the Greenfield Police Department to pool resources and take on serious cases.

All in all, LeBarre said the state of the city is “doing really darn good.”

“But, we still have some significant issues that we have to address, and a lot of those deal with revenues going forward,” he added. “At the same time, I’m very happy with our staff, our city manager, our chief of police, our fire department — all of them are working together because they care about this town.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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