All four candidates for Dixon City Council — two incumbents and two former council members looking to reclaim their seats — spoke on issues facing the city and how they would address them in a forum hosted by the Dixon Chamber of Commerce Monday night.
Moderated by Herb Cross, immediate past chair of the Chamber Board of Directors, the forum featured incumbent Councilman Jim Ernest and former Councilman Michael Ceremello running in District 1, and incumbent Vice Mayor Scott Pederson and former Mayor Thom Bogue running in District 2. In between opening and closing remarks, each candidate was asked questions delivering prepared by the Chamber as well as members of the audience in the Council Chamber.
Candidates were first asked what their vision for Dixon was. Bogue cited a number of items, including park maintenance and focusing on the budget, particularly building the city’s reserves back up.
“There are projects we’ll pull from those reserves, and I understand that, but before you do that, you need to make sure you have adequate reserves to contain that drop, while at the same time, making sure that you have the ability to replenish it within just a couple of years,” he said.
Pederson said the city needs to grow responsibly through new businesses and market-rate homes.
“By doing that, we would actually increase our revenues and we would be able to sustain the current budget that we have,” he said. “We actually have a 37.5% reserve as of today.”
Ernest said he would encourage retail-oriented businesses to come to town to generate tax revenue and attract more employers to allow residents to stay in Dixon to work. He also wanted to keep the council moving in a direction of professionalism.
“I came in under an emotional mess, and I think that we as a council have come together and just used logic and respect, and we’re starting to get somewhere,” he said.
Ceremello said he hopes to see a Council Chamber full of people engaged in the civic process.
“We have two, maybe three people at our council meetings now,” he said.
Ceremello agreed that new businesses should come to Dixon but questioned why Ernest and Pederson voted for housing along North First Street instead.
“We have the Northeast Quadrant,” he said. “It has been more or less vacant than what was planned out there…I believe it was estimated that 90,000 jobs could be created out there. Instead, what do we have? A magic beans project that was brought forward to put in housing for UC Davis students. These type of things should have been rejected out of hand. Instead, they were considered.”
The candidates were also asked what they felt was the biggest barrier to businesses coming to and staying in Dixon. All seemed to agree that the biggest barrier was California itself. Ernest said the state had $95 billion in one-time stimulus funds that was not going to communities.
“$95 billion is $2,000 per person,” he said. “That means, if they’d just give our share back that we paid to the state, we’d have $20 million here today.”
Ernest said more power and authority should be brought back to local governments.
Bogue said the city’s downtown loan program and completion of the Pardi Plaza were good places to start generating revenue.
“The more events we’ll hold, the more people we’ll bring in,” he said.
Bogue also said the city should develop a tourism marketing strategy.
“We need to spruce it up in a way that’s gonna make people wanna come and visit, if for no other reason than the historical part,” he said. “I’ve been to many cities where they’ve done this, and it was fantastic. They had great tourism, they did not increase their number of population in the area, but it did increase the amount of revenues that generated for their businesses.”
Ceremello said different areas of town are home to different types of businesses, and with smaller businesses already being stymied by the state regulations, Dixon should not make things harder.
“A solution to this is to understand the problem and then address it piece by piece,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate that the council gets involved with staff when they hear of a problem and say, ‘This is what’s going on. What can we do to remedy it?’”
Pederson said it was important for Dixon to reach out to partnering agencies in Solano County.
“They have opportunities, and they have contacts that we work with,” he said.
Pederson said the Solano Economic Development Corporation was working to fill up the town’s Northeast Quadrant.
“One of the first things we have to do is tackle the drainage situation that we have,” he said. “We have the largest aquifer in California sitting underneath us, and we have the largest amount of water that travels through the northeast…By putting businesses out there without having to have detention ponds will increase the footprints of buildings and businesses to be able to drive economic growth to the city.”
The candidates were also asked how they would address the city water system, which Cross said was operating at an annual deficit of $600,000 and had $1.7 million in capital improvements to projects to date.
Ernest said Dixon’s population was growing at “an incredibly fast pace.”
“We have 1,200 houses out there in the southwest of town that we thought we’d build out in 10 years, but they’re half full,” he said. “We can’t build anymore right now until we finish digging that well out there.”
Ernest said the water system should be further looked at, as having one well down would lead to an unequal distribution of water.
Bogue said the issues with the water system started before the city assumed ownership from Solano Irrigation District. He also talked about residents’ frustrations over the council’s decision to increase water rates in 2019.
“Unless you’re going to find a way to convince the citizens within the Dixon water district that our increase is needed, I’m not really sure how it’s gonna be addressed,” he said. “In order to do that, you have to build their trust. That is something that, as a council, we would have to come together, focus on the issue, find out what their concerns are and do an honest evaluation of each thing that’s going on.”
Ceremello said the $1.7 million was not for projects but what was left over from reserves from the water rate increases that were in place from 2016 to 2018.
“That reserve was about $2 million,” he said. “What did the city do with it? They spent some of that money on fancy brochures trying to convince the ratepayers that just rejected a rate increase to vote for a rate increase. This is the same mantra that we’ve heard over and over and over, that the system is broken.”
Pederson said the water system was something the city needed to tackle to prevent Dixon from having the same issues Flint, Michigan had in the mid 2010s or that Jackson, Mississippi is currently facing.
“We have a responsibility in this community to have good drinking water,” he said. “We have the product, but our infrastructure is broken…The projects that were not done in the past need to be done in the future. Unfortunately, it’s gonna require some work and bringing the city together that actually understand the true infrastructure situation.”
The entire forum can be viewed in videos posted to the Facebook group “Dixon 411 – Political” at Facebook.com/groups/630174917085993.
Because of districting, the City Council elections will only appear on ballots for residents living in Districts 1 or 2. Boundaries for both can be viewed at Cityofdixon.us/departments/Elections.
The election is Nov. 8. Ballots will be mailed starting Oct. 11.