Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 | 7:22 p.m.
At the annual State of the City address, Mayor Andy Hafen offered some hope that with new investments in Henderson, the economic tide might be turning.
Hafen used the address Thursday, attended by hundreds in the Henderson business community, to announce a $156 million expansion of the St. Rose Dominican Hospital Siena campus. The expansion, he said, will add 130 new beds and double the size of the hospital’s emergency room, with construction beginning in the next few months.
He also welcomed a $28 million expansion of the Levi Strauss distribution facility in Henderson, which will bring with it a 50 percent increase in staffing.
Before the speech at Green Valley Ranch Resort, a slideshow on two large projectors illustrated Hafen’s optimistic message through photos taken by participants in the “What Makes Henderson Great!” photo contest.
“I feel more positive and upbeat about the future than I have ever been,” Hafen said.
He pointed out the city has received several distinctions in the past year. Bloomberg Businessweek named Henderson No. 38 in its list of America’s 50 Best Cities, and Forbes ranked Henderson as the second-safest city in the nation.
Hafen also highlighted Henderson’s goal for its residents to live in a “premier community.”
He said he wanted the community to know Henderson was the safest and best place to live in the valley, despite the effects the dire economy has had on the city.
Those effects, however, have been significant.
The city is facing a $13 million deficit this year and another $14 million deficit in the next fiscal year. Earlier this week, the city council voted to offer another employee buyout program, the fifth round of buyouts since 2009, in an effort to reduce expenditures.
The city’s work force, exclusive of public safety areas, has been reduced by about 17 percent since the buyouts began.
Hafen admitted the city would be forced to dip into its reserves once again to close the budget gap.
“We’ve trimmed more than $105 million from our general fund, and we continue to look at ways to reduce spending and consolidate resources,” Hafen said. “There are difficult decisions yet to be made to help Henderson thrive in the coming months.”
Although the city’s assessed valuation is expected to come in lower than projected, Hafen said a gradual improvement in consolidated tax revenue is a positive for the city.
“As we do turn a corner, we are very mindful that the future holds small and steady improvement instead of the old days of intense, rapid growth,” Hafen said.
This improvement, Hafen said, started last year with about a dozen new companies that moved to Henderson.
One of them is TH Foods, an Asian snack food company that opened a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing and packaging plant in Henderson. TH Foods has brought $120 million into the economy, Hafen said.
Another two dozen small businesses have opened in the city’s redevelopment neighborhood, which has dropped the area’s vacancy rate 8 percent.
The city, Hafen said, also is in talks to sell 150 acres of land from its 500-acre limited transition area near the Henderson Executive Airport. A groundbreaking on Union Village, a $1.6 billion integrated health care and mixed-use development, will also occur sometime at the end of the year.
“Our vision is to be America’s premier community,” Hafen said. “That is what we work toward every day. We have a vision, we have a plan, and we’re working toward that vision with great results.”
But the grass isn’t necessarily greener in Henderson.
In his speech, Hafen welcomed newly appointed Ward 3 Councilman John Marz to the council. Marz was sworn in Tuesday to replace embattled former Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion.
Vermillion was removed from her post as head of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, a charity she founded 10 years ago. The Nevada attorney general’s office has asked the FBI to assist in its investigation of the charity and Vermillion’s political activities while she sat on the city council.
Vermillion also has been involved in a high-profile, public feud with her former boyfriend, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, although she filed to dismiss the suit today.
On top of that, the city this week approved a $158,000 settlement to a man who was repeatedly kicked by a Henderson Police officer during a traffic stop in October 2010. Unknown to authorities at the time of traffic stop, the man was in diabetic shock.
Hafen, who did not address either controversy, instead focused on the positive: plans to close the budget, new and upcoming development projects, and the community.
“Working together, we will continue to become more economically diverse,” Hafen said. “Working together, we will remain a safe, vibrant and sustainable community. Working together, we will be America’s premier community.”