"We've tried to inform the public, we've tried to listen, and get the information out so the public knows why we made the decisions we made," Councilman Kraig Hafen remarked as he reviewed his first year in office in an interview with the Mesquite Citizen Journal.
"We're going to have fundamental differences but I think we have a good group of individuals who discuss the issues and make decisions based on what feels best. I think the transparency issue is an accomplishment we made."
Explaining that the Technical Reviews the Council started last year is one of the major accomplishments made in his first year, "the public knows where we're going, what's on the agenda, and there's no excuses for them to say the information isn't there," Hafen added.
"We've looked at some contracts and some things that were done in the past. We've tried to make decisions based on what's best for the citizens of Mesquite. We're trying to move forward. I think we still have some challenges as far as the economy (is concerned).
He says his biggest disappointment was not being able to help businesses generate more revenue. "That’s a big disappointment for all of us. We want to see everyone be more successful. It's tougher than I had imagined."
Budget and Personnel Issues
"Staff has been good about controlling expenses. We nearly have a balanced budget. Staff cut where they needed to cut. I think the services are still there," Hafen explained about the nearly $2 million dollar swing in budget levels from last year to this year. The City was looking at a $2 million deficit in its budget when Hafen took office. This year's budget brought about a balanced proposal.
"I'm satisfied with the staffing levels at City Hall. I think Debbie Cardenas, the new Finance Director did a great job with the budget. She still has some things to learn but she's doing a great job," he remarked.
"I think Andy Barton, the new City Manager, is the kind of person we needed at this time. He listens, he has an open door policy, and he has a lot of insight that I think is going to be beneficial to Mesquite," Hafen added.
"We'll have to see where we are at the first of the year," he said when discussing whether senior managers should receive pay adjustments this year. They are the only group of employees who did not receive a pay raise this year after taking a five percent pay cut last year.
"The C-Tax is the unknown," Hafen said when talking about the area of the budget that makes him the most nervous. The consolidated tax, called C-tax, received from the State comprises about 44 percent of the City's budget. The formula used to disperse the funds is up for revision in next year's State Legislature session.
"If we can make it easier and more cost-effective for businesses to come into Mesquite, I think that's a plus. With the proposals to privatize economic development, there are some things we're looking at. I think the continuation of higher business license fees and more impact fees is the nail in the coffin to make sure we're not going to attract businesses.
"If we can reduce costs and make it easier for businesses to come and help them in the process, that's what we need to do."
One of the fees he wants to reduce and ultimately remove altogether is a three percent right-of-way fee. All residents and businesses pay the fee through utility companies who pass it on to the City. He introduced a proposal at the July 10 City Council meeting to gradually eliminate the charges. "I think this is a way to show the businesses we're serious about trying to help them. It adds up to a little bit of money to some businesses and residents on their power bills," he explained.
"We need to look at businesses who are willing to come in and invest (in Mesquite) without closing the door on them." He went on to say that previous administrations had made it difficult for businesses who explored Mesquite and "that attitude has to change."
While discussing impact fees, Hafen explained what he thinks should be done regarding the Virgin River Habitat Conservation Recovery Plan under which the City charges a $500 fee for grading land on top of the $550 fee Clark County charges. The Virgin Valley Water District plans to charge a third additional fee. "We need to engage the County, go back to the original intent of the agreement, and have one plan and one fee. That process has been started. I don't see the fairness of paying three fees, two and a half times what everyone else pays, when we're not impacting the river."
"We continue to lose businesses and it hurts. That is one of my big frustrations," Hafen said as he described the difficulty in the local economy.
Proposed Indoor Sports Complex
"I was one of the two that didn't vote to go forward," with a Request for Proposal (RFP) for designing the proposed Mesquite Indoor Sports Complex (MISC). Hafen remarked. "I was looking more at a private venture. It's my fundamental belief that is the only way this thing is going to work. I've been wrong before, and I hope I'm wrong on this if it goes forward."
"St. George is in the process of doing something similar but on a bigger magnitude and we're going to compete against that. Can we bring those venues in? It's proven we can with the facilities we already have. Maybe we need to focus on those.
"We could potentially spend a lot of money and not see the benefit we all hope we would see. We may commit the remaining funds (in the RDA Bond fund) and put all our eggs in one basket. A couple months down the road we might have a viable company come in with a great idea who asks us to kick in a little bit of money, but we don't have any left to help them."
"There were some things done (with RDA funds) that didn't pan out and took a substantial amount of those funds and potentially we may not recover the money." Hafen was referring to a $2.5 million loan to Barcelona that was used to build a road to the RV Resort at the base of Flat Top Mesa. The company has paid very little back on the loan.
"Whether you agree or disagree, Mesquite Blvd is still the corridor of Mesquite when people come into town. There are some things we need to be more aggressive in when we're talking to those business owners," Hafen commented when the discussion turned to repairing and rehabilitating buildings in the 'downtown' area.
"It's not going to take a lot of money. But it's some simple little things that can help address the issues with the older businesses and help the aesthetics."
"There was a group that wanted to re-open Harley's Garage. For some reason, that wasn't allowed. I think that would have been a positive thing to let them clean it up and show some activity. Instead of saying 'nah, we can't do that,' let's help them overcome the issues and get it cleaned up."
"But we still have to remember that that is their property. You go in there with a stick, and they might have a bigger stick. Most of these people are willing to sit down and address these issues with us. Maybe we need to be a little more diligent with them. Those things take time. Any time you tell someone 'it's my way or the highway,' that doesn't work."
"I think we can spend more money," on the downtown corridor. "I don't think it will take a lot money to do some of the things people would like to see done."
He lamented the fact that most of the $15 million bond issued for redevelopment was ill-spent on things other than what it was intended for. "Some of it, we've gotten zero return. We spent a lot of money on some things in which I don't think the process was done right." One of the examples he gave was the small lot on Mesquite Blvd referred to as "the library land" for which the City paid $1.7 million a couple years ago. "I think we should have questioned some of the pricing. I'm not trying to second guess some of the decisions, but a lot of the investments that were made out of the RDA funds did not make a good return."
Gold Butte NCA
Hafen recently introduced a Council action to reverse a resolution passed several years ago in which the City supported designating 340,000 acres south of Bunkerville as a National Conservation Area with Wilderness. His action was denied by the other Council members.
"I'm a believer that more local control is always better. The challenge I have with what is proposed is that groups continue to bring in more land to come under this umbrella of an NCA or Wilderness."
He explained that the boundary of the NCA designated area should be moved further south towards Whitney Pockets rather than having it just outside of Bunkerville. He added that he and the Mayor had met with representatives of environmental groups to come to a consensus on the NCA designation, "but we couldn't get anywhere. The amount of wilderness being proposed by the BLM is significantly less than other groups want."
"I'm about conservation and preservation. But I'm about utilization too. The last thing I want to see is that area shut down. There are roads now that have been shut down. The real reason I pushed that is because I don't want someone from Washington D.C. coming in and telling us what is going to happen. I was on the losing side of that deal," he remarked.
"If we're truly looking for the NCA (designation) to bring in more economic generation, then we need to talk about putting in a boat ramp on this side of Lake Mead. Are we truly concerned about having an economic positive to Mesquite or do we just want to get a designation?"
He supports the idea of increasing the appeal of the area to ATV enthusiasts. "But if we continue on the path to a Wilderness designation, those things won't happen. That would have a detrimental impact on the local area."
Hafen is Mesquite's representative on the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), which helps fund road and trail projects in the City, and the Regional Flood Control Board. The RTC has been negotiating a contentious contract in Las Vegas with companies vying for the right to provide bus service in the metropolitan area. He doesn't believe the outcome of those negotiations will have a detrimental affect on Mesquite's local bus service.
Hafen also said continued flooding mitigation on the Virgin River is included in the ten year plan.
He said his main goal in the next year is to make sure the City keeps its spending under control and "not deficit spend."
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 No question, Hafen is the best councilman up there. Keep at it Kraig, we're behind you! By: Tyrone
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 Keep up the good work, Councilman! Keep questioning everything brought before the Council. I am still opposed to the sports tent. The RDA money could still be spent on worthwhile ventures -- not something that will compete with St. George, etc. St. George has the population to support such a facility without having to rely on visiting teams to make a go of it. Perhaps there should be a town hall meeting to permit the local residents to brainstorm the best use of the RDA funds instead of the sports tent being the brain child of a few people. By: Judy
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 Ditto By: bobbiethompson
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 Great job, Kraig. Keep up the good work. Just telling it like it is and folks will always be behind you. By: Bill
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 To own land or a piece of property is a God-given right. Land owners must do what they can to make their piece of land/property pleasing in God's eyes. Plain and simple! By: Estee Louder
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 If we had more politicians like Kraig, this country wouldn't be in the trouble it is today. Sorry, Kraig for calling you a politician. By: Charlie
Posted Date: 07/16/2012 i am out of town but a great interview. keep up the good work. I believe the council will not approve the sports complex in this economy.at least I hope By: donna