New Williams and Colusa mayors hopeful about new year
The hope for big things to come shifts from Colusa to Williams as the calendar rolled over to 2013.
Despite what is being viewed as a minor funding setback, Williams is moving forward quickly with getting direct access from Highway 20 into the Vann business park.
Construction on the project could get started this year, officials said, but the city needs to get its environmental study and design phases completed before taking the package to the state Transportation Commission for final approval.
That makes 2014 a more realistic start date.
However, the new year is still one of high hopes, newly appointed Mayor Pat Ash said Monday.
"I think we are heading in the right direction, but I don't want to take anything a face value," said Ash, explaining that the council needs to ask the right questions and have reasonable expectations.
And she does not want to see the Williams council become the kind of divided, acrimonious council Colusa had this past year, something issues such as the confrontational fire authority budget discussion could create if not addressed quickly.
One big piece is in place thanks to the voters, who passed the Measure G tax measure. The initiative made permanent the voter-backed half-cent sales tax increase that was set to sunset at the end of March.
Without it, the city was staring at deep cuts in virtually all areas of government, including police and fire.
Colusa, coming off a tumultuous political year, is looking for some peace and quiet — and perhaps the kind of slow, steady growth it has experienced in recent months.
"I don't have a grand plan by any means, but I think it will be a comfortable year," Mayor Tom Reische said.
Reische said the council is meeting this month for a workshop to set goals for 2013, which is likely to include coming to a consensus on just what kind of city manager is needed.
In February, the mid-year budget review will take place, and while there are some questions lingering, Reische is pretty confident the city will end the fiscal year in the black.
"I think the complexion of the City Council is good, and we should have a city manager in place by then," the three-time mayor said.
Reserves are expected to be down, so while Reische does not think the city will have to dip into those funds any more, it is not a year the council can expect to add to them either.
Gone, however, is the hope of landing the Calmetha methanol plant — the kind of project that would have changed the future of the town for years and years to come.
But the $800 million project is no longer on the city landscape — if it truly ever was — and Reische said small business growth is going to drive the economy.
"Colusa is going to run its normal course," Reische said.
And while that course means the addition of a number of new or expanded downtown businesses, it also has meant the Saturday closure of Chef Colusa, a longtime staple in the community.
Reische does not expect to see any major push toward developing the riverfront area, viewed as a critical piece in the city's economic future, and what several annexation projects will mean — most notably Colusa Crossings along Highway 20 west of Town — is uncertain.
The Vann brothers are the driving force behind that property too, and officials said a hotel project that might have gone there may instead be developed near Williams.
Ash said she has heard that is a possibility, and several other commercial and industrial interests have contacted the city as well.
What is more certain is a new gas station is coming into the area, and the start of a senior housing project. The completion of the education center is also likely.
The Williams council also is expecting to get a final report on the downtown revitalization study in February, and after that, will decide what can be done, and what goes on the wish list.
Ash is sensitive to the frustrations residents have about government agencies doing expensive studies — in this case a $119,000 plan — only to see it thrown onto a shelf and forgotten.
"We have to go some place with it," Ash said. "People are tired of paying for studies ... and nothing getting done."
It might mean that smaller more practical projects will be the norm before larger, big impact improvements are made.
Ash said the city is trying to put more teeth in its code enforcement regulations to try to force property owners of long vacant and dilapidated buildings — primarily the old Odd Fellows building — to make necessary repairs to they can become useful business options, again.
Still, the critical piece for Williams is the $3.5 million highway access project, which includes improvements to Highway 20 and the extension of Margurite Avenue north to the highway, and connecting about a quarter-mile east of Interstate 5.
The development there, officials said, could generate the kind of revenue the city would need to make improvements in the downtown and other parts of the city.