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Mayor Vierra: Ceres economy rebounding is theme of 'State of the City'
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Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra delivered his State of the City address Friday morning at Howard Training Centers Witmer Hall and gave an optimistic picture of Ceres future. He said that business is starting to improve with building activity. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Sales tax revenues are increasing and more building permits are being pulled as Ceres is seeing signs of economic recovery with the rest of the Valley, Mayor Chris Vierra told a Friday audience for the annual State of the City Address.

The mayor also told the crowd - gathered at Howard Training Center in Ceres - that the city took a number of important steps in 2013 to improve the lives of Cereans.

"While unemployment remains high throughout the Central Valley, I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel and believe much brighter days are ahead," the mayor said at the breakfast event attended by about 55 people including wife Kelly.

"We are seeing the first signs of construction projects starting to come back to life. Sales tax revenues have increased slightly and the housing market appears to have stabilized and is growing."

Vierra said that after nearly three years without issuing a single building permit, Ceres is starting to see investment in new construction.

"New single family residential building permits are once again being issued and activity related to construction and remodeling of commercial and industrial buildings is significantly increasing."

He comveyed his excitement over the proposed Leer office/retail building that was recently approved for the northwest corner of Park and Sixth streets. He said the "beautiful new building will be a welcomed addition to our downtown and we believe it will be a catalyst to future business development in the downtown area."

In order to attract more business to Ceres, Vierra noted that the city recently hired an economic development manager in Steve Hallam to help bring new business and industry to Ceres. He said the city needs to continue laying the groundwork of infrastructure so that shovel-ready sites will be available to those wishing to build commercial and industrial projects. The mayor said the city will "continue advancing the new state-of-the-art Mitchell Interchange, a major capital project which will help create a new commercial center for our city, maximize the business potential of the Mitchell Road Corridor, advance our plans to develop west of Highway 99 and help us create a distinctive and positive identity."

Ceres needs to capitalize on the proximity of downtown to the freeway, he said, for "tremendous new business opportunities that can complement the community center and city hall. It will be the council's charge to provide the necessary resources and infrastructure to entice private development to invest in our downtown area."

To help create an environment where businesses will see Ceres is a community that cares, Vierra said the city need to continue fighting blight and crime to "create the right image."

"The perception of Ceres does not reflect who we really are, but we can change that," said Vierra. "We have started implementing measures to remove temporary, un-permitted signage that has impacted the appearance of our city. We will continue raising development standards for the city that reflect our positives and the city we would like to become, while implementing enforcement measures that discourage criminal activity."

Public safety was a topic on which the mayor spent time. He noted that Ceres Public Safety Department "is once again doing a great job at making our community safer and more secure."

He noted that Ceres firefighters responded to over 4,600 calls for service in 2013, of which 3,300 were medical rescue calls. Ceres firefighters saved an estimated $16 million in property losses. Vierra mentioned that the department added a canine which can help solve arson crimes.

Ceres was a safer place in 2013, with the rate of violent crimes decreasing by 25 percent and property crimes dropping by nine percent. Vierra said that in 2013, Ceres police officers responded to approximately 140 calls per day, which was a two percent decrease from 2012.

The mayor also tooted the horn of the entire city operation, saying Ceres City Hall "continually rank among the top of communities similar to ours for efficiency and spending tax payer dollars wisely and carefully. This is all being done in the wake of having lost nearly 25 percent of our revenues and staff levels that have been reduced by nearly 20 percent."

The subject of water came up in the State of the City speech, with the mayor saying that the city has invested over $5 million in water infrastructure focused on improving operations and water conservation in the past three years. The improvements include seven new backup generators, two new wells, and replacement of nearly 4,000 linear feet of water pipelines. Water use is down nearly 40 percent from the peak water use in 2007, and "the entire city is using less water today than we did in 1996, when we had some 16,000 fewer residents. That is a remarkable achievement."

To help meet future water demands, the city will work on a new transmission main water line that will connect the north and south portions of Ceres, adding a new water storage tank at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park, this will help balance water pressure and increase system reliability. The city also continues planning for a new surface water treatment plant that would provide the Ceres, Turlock and South Modesto with treated surface drinking water. He noted, however, that the cities have not been able to obtain a raw water purchase agreement with Turlock Irrigation District.

The mayor also touched on how Ceres has snagged grants or the overlay of Mitchell Road, additions to the Ceres bike path, two "Safe Routes to School" projects and to complete the Whitmore/Highway 99 interchange with landscaping. Grants also helped the city replace a significant portion of the wastewater line in Service and Mitchell roads that was failing. Vierra said the $1 million project pipeline replacement will provide capacity for future economic development activity along Mitchell Road.

The city's sewer system is more functional and efficient with the addition of two new pumps and improved screening capacity. Nearly 4,000 feet of aging sewer pipe was relined using the latest technology that saved on costly repairs, minimized disruption to residents, increase the service life of the pipes, and lowering overall maintenance costs. Additionally, several sewer lift stations were also upgraded and replaced.

Mayor Vierra ended his speech saying his council has exercised common sense and managed wisely and "making the sound decisions and investments needed to improve our quality of life and to achieve financial security in the future. Ceres is different. I like to imagine a Ceres that continues to have its neighborly hometown feel, while becoming more beautiful, more vibrant - more prosperous - and the type of place people move to in order to have a great quality of life."