Paso Robles City Council charts goals of economic development and public safety

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comApril 2, 2013 

Beefing up public safety, focusing on economic development and rebooting the city’s maintenance services will be Paso Robles’ priorities going forward, the City Council agreed Tuesday night.

The unanimous decision helps shape a roadmap for the city’s top leaders when making decisions on projects, services and city expenses.

The task is done every two years. Goals set in 2011, which the council renewed Tuesday, included limiting reserve spending and thinking about ways to restore city services and staff as well as tapping into the county’s climate action plan.

This time, the effort comes after years of recession cutbacks that have left the city with hot-button issues such as too few police patrols, the loss of the teen center and a shuttered city pool.

“Public safety is the primary reason we have cities,” Councilman Steve Martin said. “And everyone across the board here has (said that).”

Forty-one ideas for moving the city forward were developed at a community workshop this year. Residents suggested the city look at everything from addressing homeless issues to increasing library staffing.

The council members then ranked the suggestions in a point-based system that listed the choices from most popular to least popular. They also stressed that they can’t focus on everything because of a lack of funds.

Economic development continued to be a frontrunner, as tourism and new businesses bring the city out of the recession.

“Economic development is a no-brainer,” Mayor Duane Picanco said at the meeting. “If you don’t have an economy, you don’t have anything, ladies and gentlemen. Without it, we’re dead in the water.”

The city’s general fund is forecast to see gains over the next five years — bringing the $24.6 million in revenue slated this fiscal year, which ends June 30, to nearly $27.9 million in fiscal year 2016-17.

The council rejiggered the workshop list Tuesday, keeping the existence of a drug-and-gang task force already in place at the Police Department as a top priority under the umbrella of public safety, moving up economic development paired with the desire to find more downtown parking, and shifting specific focus to hiring more workers to maintain parks and facilities.

“It doesn’t matter how we are internally if, on the outside, it looks like we just aren’t keeping things up,” Martin said of shabby city parks and streetscapes.

“When the economy gets tight, the first thing to go is maintenance — pure and simple,” Picanco said in the city’s defense.

Establishing a liaison with Cuesta College was another top priority from the workshop but was later nixed because city staff said such efforts already exist.

The council also agreed to push to 2015 some less-popular ideas — from beefing up youth program funding to hiring an evidence room technician at the Police Department, as the county grand jury suggested last year.

In addition, the council promised to not overlook its long-standing priorities, such as focusing on promoting the downtown and surrounding wine country.

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