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By Mike Hazlip—
Interim City Manager Chris Boyd spoke at a Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday, addressing the city’s past and future, including an “enormous” backlog in road repairs, and the need for “fundamental rethinking” of the future of Sunrise Mall.
Boyd began his remarks in describing the recent challenges presented by the pandemic shutdown and highlighted the Great Plates program as part of the city’s efforts to support the local economy during “unprecedented times.” He also praised city staff for keeping essential services available while City Hall was closed for in-person appointments during the shutdown.
He praised efforts to attract new businesses to the city, and outlined the recent opening of Green Acres plant nursery, construction of a surgery center on Sylvan Road, pending development at Sylvan Corners, and the Sunrise Tomorrow plan to re-envision Sunrise Mall as examples.
About 50 people attended the July 13 luncheon at the North Ridge Country Club near Madison Avenue and Mariposa Avenue, just outside the city limits. Police Chief Ronald Lawrence was in attendance, as well as City Council members and business owners.
Boyd served as the first chief of the Citrus Heights Police Department and later became city manager in 2016. He announced his retirement earlier this year, and was hired back on as a retired annuitant several days later, serving as interim city manager until a permanent replacement can be found.
Another initiative Boyd highlighted was the successful acquisition of federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds that restored 22 positions to the Police Department. The city has been allocated $15.6 million from the Department of the Treasury, according to a June report by The Sentinel. Federal guidelines regulate how the money can be used, according to Boyd, with the funds being implemented in a two phase approach.
The city already operates on a lean budget, he said, adding that balancing the budget initially required several dozen positions be left vacant for the next two years.
“Even after those cuts, Police Department still made up 70% of our total personnel expenses from the General Fund, just as it has in past years,” he said. Leaving police positions vacant helped the city acquire the necessary ARPA funds that he hopes will rebuild staffing to pre-pandemic levels.
“Had those positions been filled, and our budget left unbalanced, we would not be eligible for this ARPA expenditure,” he said.
In keeping with recent survey results that show public safety as a top concern for Citrus Heights residents, the first phase was to restore Police Department funding, Boyd said. The second phase funding allocations are pending further clarification from the federal government regarding how the money can be spent.
“We recognize that while this funding will be extremely helpful for recovery, it is not a magic pill,” Boyd said. “Past COVID recovery, these funds don’t reduce the growing needs of our community like ongoing economic development support, roads, infrastructure, and more.”
Looking forward, Boyd said the Sunrise Tomorrow plan is a top priority for the city in the coming years. He attributed the decline in shoppers at Sunrise Mall to changing consumer habits, changing demographics in the area, and impacts of the pandemic shutdown. Boyd called for a new approach to redeveloping the site.
“The time has come for a fundamental rethinking the mall and surrounding area as a whole,” Boyd said. “For this reason we’ve embarked on an inclusive and forward-looking planning process engaging community members, property owners, local businesses, elected officials, and other key stakeholders to come together and re-imagine the heart of Citrus Heights.”
Once approved, Boyd said, the specific plan will triple development allowed on the 100-acre mall site, and introduce new uses such as hotels. He said the plan will also streamline future development review and related environmental requirements.
Boyd also highlighted plans to revitalize Auburn Boulevard, congratulating city staff on their efforts to acquire the funds. He said staff from different departments worked together to create a winning proposal.
“Getting the full amount of grant funding that we requested allows the city to complete the planned improvements in one construction phase, reducing private property impacts and resulting in a better overall product for the best price possible,” Boyd said.
During a question and answer period, Boyd was asked what he saw as the biggest challenges the city faces in the next several years. He said that while the ARPA funding “buys us a couple more years,” he sees longterm funding as one of the challenges future city leaders will face.
“The biggest unanswered question really is around roads, street resurfacing,” Boyd said. “Our deficit is enormous. We started with a deficit when we became a city almost 25 years ago, and we’ve never really been able to get out in front of that.”
Boyd closed his remarks by saying the luncheon would be the last time he would be addressing the chamber.
“I hope our business community, including you all here today, see the benefits and all our hard work throughout the pandemic and now,” he said.
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