It’s no wonder Mesa has been without an economic development director since December, when Richard Mulligan left the city to take the same job in Chandler. Those charged with luring businesses to an area deal in positive and negative indicators within a community. When regarding Mesa as a potential employer, job seekers see a city with the same location, weather and freeway access as the rest of the East Valley, plus a couple hundred thousand more people.
Yet it’s running on a budget that is growing, but is being eaten up much more quickly by crushing debt and aging infrastructure because it lacks the stable base a property tax would have provided, had voters approved one last May.
In short, potential hires see the same dismal future which is driving longtime city employees away. Pretty soon it’ll be difficult to find people who were around when booming sales-tax revenues made forward-thinking projects such as the Mesa Arts Center and Williams Gateway Airport seem like good, sustainable ideas. Those who replace them will have to think inside a smaller and shrinking box — a box that could end up shrinking Mesa.
Life in Mesa hasn’t quite lived up to the doomsday scenarios presented by property tax supporters — yet.
It’s been bad. The future of several beloved public events has been thrown into jeopardy by this fiscal year’s budget, valued after-school programs have gone by the wayside, museum hours and resources are shrinking and arts groups are dancing on the bubble of extinction.
Still, most people don’t have to choose between going to work and going to the library, though whether they’ll find what they need is another matter. A United Way campaign rescued several social service programs from disaster. And the City Council’s spoken commitment to public safety has been followed up with upping the police chief’s salary in order to land a top Los Angeles cop for the job and the expansion of the photo enforcement system.
But ominously, the city’s brain drain appears to be accelerating, and it’s getting harder to find new employees.
The Tribune’s Jason Massad and Sarah N. Lynch reported Monday that five of the city’s departments or divisions were being led by acting directors, and the overall turnover rate for non-public safety jobs at the city was 12 percent from 2005-06, nearly twice the national average, and police department saw a 10 percent turnover rate.
Turnover is often healthy for an organization — if it has the resources and reputation to bring in new people with new energy and different problem solving experiences. City Manager Chris Brady’s ability to re-energize Mesa government is severely limited by an electorate that wasn’t willing to invest in the future of the city and its employees.