During the first few months of 2018, the city of Visalia has been involved in a number of substantial matters that don’t always appear in the local press. That is why I write this monthly article to keep you informed. While other towns and governing boards seem to be filling the printed page lately, Visalia and our City Council continue to quietly make progress and serve our residents. The following are a number of recent items that you might find interesting:

Visalia Senior Games

The third annual Visalia Senior Games were again a success. We had 520 participants, with 111 coming from Visalia, 287 from our region (Madera County to Kern County), and others from various parts of California, together with four competitors from Texas, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.

Local retired businessman Don Overstreet, a golfer, gets the award for being the oldest participant this year at age 91. I enjoyed shedding about 10 pounds in training for the games, and did well in the shot put and triple jump events. City Councilman Greg Collins competed in various swimming events. The largest competition was again in pickleball, which had a record 136 participants, with 100 participants in softball, 54 in track and field, and 38 in swimming.

A special thanks goes to Jostens, which again donated the cost of our printed program.

Other senior games will be hosted from April through September 2018 in the Bay Area, Pasadena, the Sonoma wine country, San Diego and the Inland Empire. 

If you didn’t join with us this year, make 2019 the year that you get off the couch, turn off the TV and get back into shape. Thanks also to our community volunteers and the Parks and Recreation Department for making this event a repeat success. 

Convention and Visitors Bureau

We recently received a report from our CVB. In 2017, the actualized economic impact of tourism in Visalia was $7.1 million relating to Convention Center conferences. Attendees at these events average 3.1 nights of hotel stay here. Additionally, this resulted in 8,621 hotel/motel room nights, up 46.8 percent from 2016.

The types of organizations that book our Convention Center include religious (e.g., Great Western Fan Fest, Time Out for Women), sports (high school girls wrestling state finals) and fraternal (Order of the Eastern Star).

The Convention Center’s 2018 calendar is quickly filling up. New groups for 2018 include a YMCA conference, the California Superintendents Association, the Diocese of Fresno and the Department of Corrections. 

The transient occupancy tax collected by these hotel stays has increased from $1.8 million in 2011 to $2.6 million in 2017.

For those of you who have attended conventions in big cities, you know how frenzied and rushed those can feel, particularly when dealing with rush-hour traffic, crowds and just getting around town for various events. I believe that more and more small and mid-sized conventions are looking for communities such as Visalia, which has a beautiful Convention Center and wonderful amenities, without losing that small-town feel.

Financial Report Update

Soon the City Council will start crunching numbers and reviewing programs to come up with a new two-year budget beginning July 1, 2018. The City Council recently reviewed our progress for budget year 2017-18. If projections hold true, it is anticipated that at the end of this fiscal year, we will have a $4,407,965.00 budget surplus! This surplus is the result of revenues being up from what we budgeted by $2.8 million and expenditures being less than we anticipated by $2.2 million. Sales taxes revenues were up 2.5 percent and property tax revenues by the same amount. Our emergency reserves will increase to $14.9 million by the end of this budget cycle, which equals 25 percent of operating expenditures.

The City Council adopted a policy that all surpluses are first to be deposited into reserves to maintain our emergency reserves at 25 percent of operating expenditures. Any remaining surplus then will be deposited into the Civic Center Reserve Fund for future purposes. 

However, not everything in the report was rosy. There are some signs of an economic slowdown, in that building permits are down over prior years, and that houses are remaining on the market longer. Additionally, the city’s contribution to our employees’ retirement system will increase annually by about $1 million over the next several years. Depending on whether there is an economic downturn, it may be much more difficult for future city councils to balance the budget. 

St. Paddy’s Day Parade

Kudos to our local Breakfast Lions Club for putting on the biggest and best Visalia St. Paddy’s Day Parade yet! This year, there were 66 entries. My wife and I were in the parade again this year, and it was obvious to us that the crowds were the largest that we’ve seen. 

My next MEET THE MAYOR office hours will be May 10. Call (559) 713-4535 for an appointment.