San Luis mayor optimistic on city's future
Although the past year still tested San Luis economically, Mayor Gerardo Sanchez sees clear signs that the economy is improving.
“We did good this year. The state of the economy is hard on everyone, but in San Luis we have not let it affect the budget. I believe that all the measures we implemented to reduce spending and increase efficiency have worked,” Sanchez said.
He pointed to several signs of an improving economy, including growth in population, which went from 25,505 to 31,080 in the last two years, according to census figures.
The population growth means the city now has access to more state programs and grants that it previously didn't qualify for.
Sanchez noted that the city achieved improved efficiency even with a limited staff.
“We have a much more efficient government than years ago, but there is still room for improvement. That's important in our service to citizens, but it's also something that investors notice when considering projects.”
The council implemented two years of austerity measures to prevent a budget deficit. One such measure taken last year, as part of the strategy to prevent a $1.5 million shortfall, was the reduction of staff by 12 employees.
San Luis not only prevented the deficit, but laid the groundwork for a stronger financial recovery in the years to come, Sanchez said.
This fiscal year the city has a budget of more than $47.4 million, higher than the prior year, which gives the city the ability to increase employee salaries by 3 percent.
Sanchez noted that exercising discipline in spending has enabled the council to improve services despite economic constraints.
“We were able to buy a sweeper, something we haven't had for many years. We purchased patrol cars, and we now have two ambulances that serve the city, which we didn't have before,” he said. “We did all this by being disciplined with our spending and very actively seeking grants.”
He added that these achievements have resulted in a stability that not only facilitates the functions of government, but also benefits city residents.
One of those benefits may be new development projects that create jobs. For example, the industrial building formerly occupied by the Meadowcraft factory on Highway 95, north of San Luis, was recently sold. City officials believes the new owners will be able to attract a business that will generate hundreds of jobs.
“City and government stability is well regarded by investors, and this makes the city more attractive. We have several companies that have been looking at San Luis as a place to invest. I think next year we will see some of them come here and provide more jobs,” he said.
Noting that the city has already had several years without a major source of new jobs, Sanchez said San Luis now has what it takes to attract new industry.
“We have a modern commercial port, a population that continues to grow, as well as new infrastructure.”
Local authorities believe that a planned traffic and infrastructure overhaul at the city's center will improve trade, although the start of construction has been delayed for another year. The state Department of Transportation will lead the project.
Sanchez added that projects like the detention center – which the city acquired for nearly $50 million, paid for with two bond issues – will generate sufficient income to pay off debt.
“Overall, I think 2013 will be good for San Luis. The city is young and will continue to grow and prosper. We just have to continue moving forward with discipline and being more efficient,” he said.