Marysville's new mayor conducts first solo 'coffee klatch'

MARYSVILLE — Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring's first solo "coffee klatch" Sept. 29 drew a number of older citizens to the Marysville YMCA who expressed concerns about what they identified as the loss of resources for seniors in the community.

Nehring's talk with local residents touched on a number of topics, but Margaret Hopkins set the tone for much of the meeting by asking about the zoning of mobile home communities in the city and the state of the Ken Baxter Senior Community Center.

"With this new zoning, older and lower income people could possibly lose their only homes," said Hopkins, who later deemed the senior community center "a disgrace for a city this size, for it to be so small and in a former jail. The Stillaguamish Senior Center is beautiful."

Nehring admitted that he hadn't given the Planning Commission's zoning recommendation a great deal of study yet, since it hadn't come before the City Council, but he acknowledged Hopkins' worries.

"I'm inclined to see that we need to protect those people in some way," said Nehring, who went on to point out the difficulty of funding many city programs with an estimated $2.5 million budget gap, even though he acknowledged that Hopkins was making "very valid requests. I'd love to see a bigger senior center. I'd love to see more youth sports complexes in the area. But unless we get private partnerships or the economy changes, that's simply not going to happen."

Goldie Landis, a volunteer receptionist for the senior community center, was echoed by other attendees when she asserted that the community center no longer served seniors as fully.

Nehring noted that he's not inclined to vote for tax increases, since he believes such a measure would increase the burden on households that are already struggling in the current economy. As such, he admitted that significant budget cuts were likely.

Deborah and Rob Hitchings wondered what could be done about storefronts and residential front yards that appeared unsightly. Nehring pointed out that the city needs to negotiate with individual business owners to change storefronts, especially since the tough economy makes it more difficult for many of them to meet whatever design standards the city might choose.

"Parts of Marysville look like a Jeff Foxworthy joke," Rob Hitchings laughed. "We've got homes with old vehicles and blackberry brambles in their front lawns."

Nehring urged the Hitchings and other citizens to contact the Marysville Police code enforcement officer, since laws do exist to prevent such discrepancies.

Nehring elaborated on the city's financial difficulties by identifying the Catch-22 of the Cedarcrest golf course and restaurant, since it costs money to run it but it wouldn't make any money if it was shut down. He added that one of his goals is to raise the city's reserve to 6 percent, since its current reserve of less than 3 percent affects the city's bond rating.

"That means we have to pay more money in the long term," said Nehring, who is looking at possible wage freezes for city employees. "That's unacceptable. If we have another dip in the economy or another flood, we'll find ourselves scrambling."

Nehring encouraged citizens to share their thoughts and feelings with him.

"Be honest with me," Nehring said. "I need to hear this. My dad uses the senior center here and my sons play youth sports. This affects us too, so there's no intentional disrespect when we can't get you the programs you want. We're going to miss some stuff, but I truly believe we can find some common ground."

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