The mayor at seven months

Salem talks about ’08 achievements, challenges for ’09

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br><br>
Kingman Mayor John Salem sits in his office Friday morning. Salem says the city of Kingman will remain effective in 2009.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br><br> Kingman Mayor John Salem sits in his office Friday morning. Salem says the city of Kingman will remain effective in 2009.

KINGMAN - As 2008 draws to a close, so too does John Salem's first seven months as Kingman's mayor.

And while the past year has been a rough one by nearly any mayor's estimation, Salem maintains it was not without its fair share of accomplishments.

Many such accomplishments the Salem administration has made since taking office June 2 include tackling items that, while unglamorous on the surface, are nonetheless important to the city's current and future operations.

Salem pointed to one such example in the City Council's Nov. 17 decision to purchase the former JC Penney building at 201 N. Fourth St. for $875,000, rather than continue leasing it to house the Development Services Department.

"We're going to save the city upwards of $80,000 a year in lease costs by purchasing it, and we've already invested some $70,000 in upgrades, repairs and remodeling the building," he said.

Salem said other important items included securing a $35 million loan from the state Water Infrastructure and Finance Authority for necessary upgrades to the Hilltop Wastewater Treatment Plant, as well as negotiating a contract with Jack Kramer to fill the city manager position vacated by Paul Beecher more than a year earlier.

He noted that his administration has also successfully met the task of executing the budget cuts approved by his predecessor, Les Byram.

"The prior Council had approved a 10-percent budget cut in their workshops," Salem said.

"In the first six months of our tenure, we've been very successful working with Jack to implement those budget cuts."

Salem said making those cuts and holding off on capital improvements while still managing the same level of city services has been a major accomplishment in itself, especially considering how a citywide hiring freeze has many departments doing more work with fewer employees. "The workforce is down 28 positions (since 2007), and those were vacated by attrition," Salem said.

"I'm real proud of the fact that we've been able to maintain the workforce we have without compromising city services."

Salem added that in nearly every instance where a position was cut, the employee filling that position was able to retain their employment in another department.

The job switches haven't always been congruous - a building inspector who now finds himself behind the wheel of a KART bus is one example - but with only one exception, the city has managed to find a place for everyone, despite the required reduction in force.

"If all I am able to do is maintain our current city staff without compromising city services, we've done our job, in spite of this horrible economy," Salem said. "It's good for the public to know how lucky we are to have the staff we have in place."

Budget meeting expectations

And though it may not seem like an incredible achievement in any other year, Salem noted that the fact that the city is meeting, and even exceeding, its projected budget revenue for this fiscal year is outstanding at a time when cities all over the country are facing unprecedented shortfalls.

"There are other cities where the ship is sinking. We're not. We're doing okay," he said. "The reason for that is we were so conservative and realistic in our projections."

Salem said his administration has also gone to great lengths to improve Kingman's relationship with both its neighbors in Mohave County and with the various state agencies crucial to the city's development. He said the decision to transform the Tri-City Council of Kingman, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City from an informal "club" into an official entity complete with bylaws was a key step toward gaining increased recognition from the state Legislature.

"We have a great relationship with the other two cities," he said. "This is something we haven't enjoyed in a very long time. We're going to be able to accomplish a lot at the state level on behalf of this region."

Salem added that Kingman city officials have been in attendance at nearly every state transportation board meeting, and that the city's strong working relationship with the Arizona Department of Transportation helped to overcome access issues that might otherwise have doomed the Kingman Crossing interchange project.

"Had it not been for that, I don't think phase one of Vanderbilt and Vestar's shopping center would have gone through," Salem said.

Interchange work continues

And while much of it remains behind the scenes, Salem maintained that work is continuing on both the Kingman Crossing and Rattlesnake Wash traffic interchanges.

"We're moving forward with Kingman Crossing," he said. "We have found an attorney to represent the city with a proposed development agreement and fiscal impact analysis on the proposed development."

Meanwhile, Salem said the city's development services staff is currently in the process of securing the consent of landowners east of Wagon Wheel Drive and north of Interstate 40, with aims to annex the land for the eventual development of Rattlesnake Wash.

Planning for growth

"We'll continue to work on our capital improvement plan," he said. "We're going to continue to develop some planning for economic development."

But Salem acknowledged while many of these developments may not be visible for some time, the most important challenge for the coming year will be keeping the city afloat financially. It's a challenge he said he's prepared to meet.

"I'm optimistic we'll meet all the challenges in 2009, especially the financial ones," he said. "Capital improvements and some of the glamour and fluff, these are items we're probably not going to see in the next year, year and a half, but the city's going to remain effective."