The Ely City Council added a significant new goal to its Strategic Plan at a special meeting Monday, Feb. 22.
Drafted last month, the Strategic Plan put forth a mission and vision statement for the city from 2016-2021. The approved mission statement of the City of Ely reads, “To promote, foster and support an efficient and safe environment where visitors, residents and businesses can pursue their dreams in an atmosphere of old-time Western hospitality and charm.” Its vision statement reads, “To be an economically diversified and vibrant municipality which promotes efficient, straightforward and professional interaction among all stakeholders.”
The original draft Strategic Plan also identified three broad goals and more detailed objectives for the city to work toward over the next five years. The first goal is to “increase tourism activity during the summer and fall,” specifically “by 20 percent in the next three years.” The second goal is to “increase and diversify industries and business activity,” measured by a “net increase of five businesses and an increase of 5 percent in employee base in the next two years outside of the public sector.” Goal three is “to install and maintain modern infrastructure within the City’s sphere of influence,” by “increasing funding as necessary for the most vulnerable infrastructure.”
City Administrator Bob Switzer proposed a fourth goal that evening: improving the housing situation.
“We need adequate housing for families of correctional officers and miners,” Switzer said. He then cited a study he had read, saying, “This study identified a national trend that where you have a lack of affordable housing, you find a lack of teachers. Now that’s a national trend, but we may be part of that trend.”
The council generally agreed that a lack of affordable housing is a major problem for the development of Ely.
“If we’re successful in bringing in a big business, that would be a big problem,” Councilman Sam Hanson said. “Rents are overpriced.”
“What rentals we have aren’t up to code,” Mayor Melody Van Camp added. “They aren’t energy efficient, they’re rundown and derelict. You could rent one, but they would kill you on utilities.”
Council Bruce Setterstrom preferred to focus on achieving progress on one of the already established goals, rather than create a new one. He wants to increase tourism revenues first, such as by circulating information about local bicycling opportunities in large urban areas like Salt Lake City. He remained skeptical about efforts to lure large businesses to the area.
“If you think big businesses are coming to town, it ain’t going to happen,” Setterstrom said. “When people want to come, then businesses are going to open up. Now there’s no retail, so people are not going to want to come to town, but they are going to want to come play in the mountains. We need to pick one thing and make it work, and that’s tourism.”
Considering the combination of unpredictable mining economics, slim retail shopping options and a lack of affordable housing, there is little incentive for a miner to buy property and bring his family to Ely.
“It sounds good,” Councilman Kurt Carson said. “But it’s a tough sell at the end of the day.”
Private citizen Jim Garza added his input:
“We need 20,000 people here to attract more people,” Garza said from the public comment podium. “Until then, we’re going to struggle to keep people here. Don’t forget the cost of that goal. We need to leverage state and federal funds. We need to leverage city-owned assets and look for redevelopment grants.”
Hanson proposed the new fourth goal to read, “To seek public and private partnership to stimulate development of affordable housing,” with the specific objective to “increase availability of quality housing stock by 15 units per year for the next three years.”
The council unanimously approved the wording of the new goal, which will now be added to the draft Strategic Plan.
The council also approved a plan to send City Attorney Charles Odgers to Las Vegas to attend a government auction and possibly purchase a vacuum truck with Street Department funds not to exceed $20,000. The vehicle that may be purchased is a International/Vactor 2554/2100 series with 20,200 miles on the odometer and 2,800 hours of operation.
“The truck will pay for itself after two years based on what we’re paying now,” Hanson said.
According to the council, the city paid a contractor $12,500 to clear three storm drains last year. The Robinson Nevada Mining Company pays $20,000 annually to use the city’s storm drains, but has no legal obligation to clean them.
“Some of them haven’t been touched since 2013,” Odgers said.
Setterstrom expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the vehicle’s listed operational history. He proposed having an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle first. Odgers plans to ask if he can start the vehicle at the auction, but Setterstrom doubted that he would be allowed.
“I’m not going to waste the city’s resources,” Odgers said. “If I’m not satisfied, we’ll turn around and come right back up.”
The city council next holds its regular twice monthly meeting at the Ely Volunteer Fire Hall on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 5 p.m.