A new learning curve: Tahoe/Truckee organizations reflect on tumultuous 2009 | SierraSun.com

A new learning curve: Tahoe/Truckee organizations reflect on tumultuous 2009

Greyson Howard and Jason ShuehSierra Sun

Sun File PhotoCindy Gustafson, Tahoe City Public Utility District general manager, said her district had to cut 1,600 service hours in 2009.

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; Looking back, the recession that dominated 2009 changed the way things worked for organizations and government institutions in the Truckee/Tahoe region.Progress slowed, employees were cut andamp;#8212; and in some cases, revenues drastically dropped.Yet, as much as it was a year of loss, 2009 was also a year of learning, and like many communities across the nation, Truckee/Tahoe’s local government agencies were compelled to react on the fly to the economic climate by finding new business strategies, efficiencies and goals for 2010 and beyond.

andamp;#8220;We really experienced a fall in revenue of a whole magnitude of scale, combined with the state budget and the state’s continued pursuit of local funds. That was really the issue of 2009,andamp;#8221; said Tony Lashbrook, town manager for Truckee.Also hit hard was the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.andamp;#8220;One year ago we had 543 employees and currently have 479,andamp;#8221; said Steve Jennings, superintendent for the district. Jennings said after the district had to cut $3.8 million from its budget, the administration had to make some painful decisions. The result equaled fewer teachers and higher class sizes, student-paid transportation and fewer maintenance and administrative employees.Dennis Oliver, spokesperson for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said 11 staff positions, about 13 percent of its workforce, were eliminated in 2009 due to cuts.andamp;#8220;We have also cut operations significantly, including permanently closing our North Shore office in Tahoe City, frozen staff salaries and continue to weigh options for cutting costs,andamp;#8221; Oliver said.At the Tahoe City Public Utility District, Cindy Gustafson, district general manager, battled organizational issues of her own in 2009. Notable challenges included reducing 1,600 hours of seasonal labor, one full-time layoff and not renewing one position after an employee retired.andamp;#8220;The most significant change is undertaking increased workloads with reduced staffing. This mandates an even higher standard of labor efficiency and much greater planning effort in all that we do,andamp;#8221; she said.The Truckee Tahoe Airport was hit by the economy lighter than most, said Kevin Bumen, director of aviation and public relations.andamp;#8220;We didn’t have any furloughs and didn’t have to cut staff, so that’s one measure of how minimal 2009’s impacts were on us,andamp;#8221; Bumen said.In Nevada, the Incline Village General Improvement District also took larger measures to combat declining revenues, laying off two employees, mandating furloughs for others, cutting spending and delaying about $2 million in capital projects to ensure it could meet its 2009-10 operating budget.

Construction dominates the local economy in Truckee, Lashbrook said, in the form of construction material sales, contractor employment and eventual real estate sales.But that doesn’t make for the most diverse economic portfolio.andamp;#8220;One of the adjustments that came out of this is andamp;#8212; don’t put all your eggs in one basket,andamp;#8221; Lashbrook said. andamp;#8220;We need an economy base beyond new construction and real estate sales.andamp;#8221;At the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, Steven Poncelet, public information and conservation manager, said one of the biggest lessons learned was public involvement.andamp;#8220;As far as lessons learned; transparency works,andamp;#8221; Poncelet said.As the district made the transition to metered water rate structures, keeping the public apprised translated to a fairly smooth process, he said.At the school district, Jennings attributed recent successes andamp;#8212; balancing the budget, keeping class sizes down and maintaining extra-curricular sports programs andamp;#8212; to hardworking teachers and staff who, through a little creativity, were able to make great strides from modest means.andamp;#8220;By changing the way we do business and adopting a new educational model, we feel that rather than receiving an inferior education, our students are experiencing a higher quality product,andamp;#8221; Jennings said.

For Tahoe Forest Hospital, 2010 is something of a moving target, said Chief Executive Officer Bob Schapper.andamp;#8220;There is less money in the system for health services so we have to find more effective ways to improve the system of delivery, without knowing the shape health care reform is going to take,andamp;#8221; Schapper said.TRPA’s list of goals for 2010 seem unswayed by past economic uncertainty.andamp;#8220;Keep Tahoe mussel free, make Tahoe even more fire safe, make significant progress on completing the Regional Plan update (and) continue to embrace good science, innovative solutions and technology in our approach to protecting and improving Tahoe,andamp;#8221; Oliver said.For Truckee, shifting priorities could keep the workforce employed in public projects.andamp;#8220;We’re trying to get as much public works out there in the absence of private development,andamp;#8221; Lashbrook said.At the Truckee Tahoe Airport, 2010 will see the district continuing existing goals, like flight tracking, a possible new administration building, and hiring a new general manager, Bumen said.