Thursday, March 5, 2009
What's the Best Leadership for Tough Economic Times: Joyce Wilson
El Paso is fortunate to have the calm, steady, conservative, no-nonsense leadership of City Manager, Joyce Wilson. Ms. Wilson spoke this morning at Mayor Pro-Tem Susie Byrd's monthly Thursday public meeting.
To be sure El Paso is not as touched by the economic downturn as are other cities throughout the country. Our housing market is relatively stable and there have been no significant declines in property evaluations. Wilson did say that sales tax collections are down as are bridge revenues. The latter were down as much as 20% in January from the previous year and 10 to 15% overall for the start of 2009. Fortunately, Wilson premised the current fiscal year budget on higher energy costs and the cost of gasoline and other fuels have actually decreased by 50% over the last three quarters.
There has been a construction slow-down but that has also had a favorable effect on the City budget. Contractors are bidding city projects more competitively.
Our steady-handed City Manager said that, in spite of the worldwide and national economic crisis, she would keep capital improvement projects on schedule and pursue IT improvements so El Paso could catch up with other places technologically. She happily reported that as much as $21Million dollars from the stimulus package for transportation is coming our way and would help to complete the loop around El Paso.
As she contemplates the budget process for the next fiscal year, Joyce promises not to take any draconian measures. Her assumption is that the economy will not turn upward until the end of the year or into next year. Therefore, she will start the budget process at $10Million dollars less than the current year without compromising police and fire protection as well as streets, infrastructure and IT improvements. By budgeting conservatively, Ms. Wilson will prevent El Paso from overspending in a bad economy and will position El Paso to gain a stronger footing should the economy begin to improve before the end of the year.
The City Manager next commented about the PSB and stormwater management. In spite of what critics say, she pointed out, the PSB is accountable to the people of the City of El Paso through the elected City Council. On March 31 the PSB will go before City Council for approval of a master drainage plan and capial improvements.
Wilson lauded the PSB's for its quick and effective development of a stormwater management plan and for putting into place the groundwork to reduce future risk of flooding.
A variety of topics were touched on through questions by the audience. Concern that the drug wars in Juarez might spill across the border was on the minds of many. Ms. Wilson explained that all levels of law enforcement (city, state and federal) are in communication about the violent situation across the border and that they are also in touch with their counterparts in Mexico.
Wilson assured everyone that she and law enforcement officials feel comfortable that we will not have a spillover of violence into our city. However, if we do, Wilson said that "response will be very fast, very swift and very strong."
It's good to know that, in good times or bad, El Paso has Joyce Wilson's strong, steady hands and her wisdom guiding us.