Can Nevada City stay incorporated long term?

images23It’s a question I increasingly wonder about: Nevada City is one of the smallest incorporated cities in the state, at about 3,000 people.

I value living in an incorporated city, compared with the challenges of living in the rest of 95959 (sewage woes at Cascade Shores, for example).

But the long-term trend for us at three-digit addresses in NC raises concerns:

•Flat to declining population in an economic “cul de sac.” In addition, a lot of people don’t earn much — and, in turn, generate enough tax revenue. The pot of money needed for police, fire, sewer and City Hall is getting smaller, not bigger.

•Public safety. Our police force is costly — and not always as tightly run and effective as it should be. At some point, you have to consider cutting a deal with the county Sheriff’s Office instead.

•Fire protection. Nevada City Fire Department does a great job, but we greatly depend on other fire-fighting agencies for emergency calls as well. Is this cost effective?

•The cost of retiring/hiring government workers. The city manager, police chief, city engineer, public works director, among others, all are nearing retirement. We share the burden of their retirement costs, as well as finding the money to hire their replacements at competitive wages.

The No. 1 problem the city faces is a declining tax base to pay for the growing cost of government. We also face some divisive “cultural” issues: people who try to “hijack” the city to further their own personal or political agendas but are not true stakeholders.

We face some tough choices down the road. We need to diversify our economy: attracting more families and creating more higher-paying jobs. We also need to separate the people who “use” Nevada City from the true stakeholders who really care about its future.

It’s time to buckle down, become more introspective and work together. Can we?

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

2 thoughts on “Can Nevada City stay incorporated long term?”

  1. ‘We also face some divisive “cultural” issues: people who try to “hijack” the city to further their own personal or political agendas but are not true stakeholders.’

    Since we retired and moved here only a year and a half ago (to land we bought 35 years ago and to a house we built 20 years ago), we’re still trying to get up-to-speed on local political and cultural issues. So naturally I’d really like an example of what that statement I quoted above means (although, I understand that in the nature of things, it may just be too delicate and sensitive an issue to give any examples … trusting us to know what you mean).

  2. Plymouth, California an incorporated city in Amador County, with a population of about 1000 used to have a police force. Budget problems earlier in the last decade forced the city to disband its police force and contract with the county for police services.

    It has worked quite well, with the Sheriff’s Department setting up a sub station in Plymouth.

    The cost to the city in 2005 was $118,000 per year for sheriff services. Probably about the equivalent of one full time paid police officer, including salary, benefits etc.

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