First Decade In 2000s Brings Prosperity, New Infrastructure And Staffers
Looking back on the first decade of the new century, Americans remember significant national events that have permanently changed society, for better or worse.
Although West University Place residents may have ridden the emotional roller coaster with the rest of the nation, local changes played more important roles in how the city developed and transformed in the past 10 years.
Property values increased exponentially, bringing new people and a new culture to town. Meanwhile, the city completed a massive infrastructure renewal program and hired all-new top city staffers who improved services for West U. residents.
Even the current recession has had little-to-no impact on property values.
“West U. is probably one of the few municipalities in the country where we still had our property values go up,” said Councilman George Boehme.
“The value of properties in West U. is an amazing thing. In the 10-years’ time it’s more than doubled,” said City Manager Michael Ross, who joined the city in 2001. “It’s an amazing number when you look at $4.3 billion dollars in value in a two-square-mile city.”
The rising values were a boon for city coffers. In 2000, the city collected $7.3 million in property taxes. By 2008, that revenue increased to nearly $12.8 million and unaudited numbers from 2009 indicate the city collected nearly $13.9 million in property taxes.
“The ones who are coming in today are your higher-ranking professionals in corporations,” Ross said. “They’re looking to get into West University Place because of its location to everything and hopefully because of the services we provide.”
For some residents already living in West U., the increasing values were more of a burden. Seniors living on fixed incomes found it difficult to pay their increasing property taxes.
“It actually costs more for you to have the same thing,” said Councilman Steven Segal, who is currently serving his second term of the decade.
Trying to help, the city council twice increased limits for a senior property tax exemption.
The changing demographics in West U. caught the attention of Dorothy Zink, a resident who has been an active volunteer for city programs including the Good Neighbor Team, a group that helps seniors. The West U. community is more socially isolated than in the past, Zink said.
“I don’t think the people know their neighbors like they used to. Because they don’t do the yard work,” Zink said. When people used to work outside, they met neighbors and talked to them. Not any more, she said.
“They open the garage door, drive in, go in their house. Then in the morning they get up,” she said. “I think it’s gone from a small town to a more contemporary town. Hopefully we can keep it a hometown as much as we can.”
Although rising property values may have changed the makeup of the community, the increased tax revenue helped the city pay for several massive infrastructure improvement programs that completely replaced the streets, underground water and sewer lines, drainage system, sidewalks and even street lights. Voters approved some of the work in the 1990s, but much of it was started and completed in the past 10 years.
“For a city to say ‘We’re going to replace all of our infrastructure’ and go make it happen over a period of time is an amazing thing,” Ross said.
Now leaders are turning their eyes to improving city facilities, including the current construction on the Recreation Center and Colonial Park Pool. Next on the list is a brand-new police station and renovations to the fire station and other city departments.
All city departments underwent major changes for the better during the decade due to changes in leadership.
“I believe at this time we probably have the most qualified city manager and set of directors we’ve had in the history of West U.,” Segal said.
Michael Ross joined the staff as city manager, and he credits city councils with committing to doing what was necessary — Offering competitive pay and benefits — to attract high-quality, talented leaders to head city departments.
“It gives me a team that any other city manager would be envious of,” Ross said. Ross has directed his staff to pursue continuing education and provide the best possible customer service for residents.
“The biggest change in the last 10 years has been the city, really, from an operation standpoint has become much more professional and efficient,” said Boehme. “Michael goes and hires competent people and he empowers them to go out and do what they’re trying to do.”