Entering into a new era always holds some apprehension. That is true for organizations and for individuals.
When a person has been selected for leadership by fellow citizens, the responsibility is heavy, but the results can be satisfying.
As Joe Bonacci moves from a short retirement to an almost full-time job as the mayor of Helper, his years of experience as a citizen of Carbon County and a school administrator will serve him well.
The problems and opportunities that confront Helper are Bonacci's main concern as he moves into his new position as the leader of the city.
"One of the main concerns I am painfully aware of is the fact that our tax base is so low," he stated in an interview last week. "For so many years ,we have been in a depressed condition that our sales tax revenue is very low. But beyond that, one of the reasons I was so excited to run for mayor was that I have started to see some new business activity take place in Helper and that there is a renewed interest in our town."
The businesses that have started to fill store fronts along both sides of Main Street have made a big difference in not only the appearance of the downtown area, but also in the traffic that is passing through the area.
"I want to create the kind of atmosphere in our community that will generate support for those and other businesses," he states. "That will help our tax base."
Bonacci felt he could not comment about specifics on the city budgets because the budgets arewith the auditors and he did not have the exact details. But he said he was sure they have been "strapped " over the years by low revenues. "One of the things I was most surprised to find out about the budgets was that the bulk of the money the city gets to operate is from the sales tax, more than it is from property taxes," he said.
"Some of the other taxes I am not as sure about right now because I am just learning about them and how they work. However, I intend to really study this situation and understand it fully. Nonetheless, I just want to create a positive environment for business in our community. That's one of my major goals."
A good example of the attitude of the new administration and council was their willingness to find money to help the businesses in town fund a sign that will soon be erected on U.S. 6 telling people about Helper.
"When they asked for that help in the last city council meeting we couldn't find any extra money in the budget to help with it," he stated. "But I went to the Helper Projects Committee and they were willing to give the group $500 to get started. That gets us up to July 1 and then when we build that new budget we can include money in it for that. Many larger entities can give people tax breaks to move businesses in but we aren't in a position to do that. Instead we can do something like this. If we can do this in a generic sense, like this sign idea, I feel that is a very good thing."
Another thing Bonacci had been concerned with was the business license cost increase the council had enacted last year.
"I want to help businesses grow and that was part of my thinking behind reviewing the business license cost increase that was enacted," he stated. "When I had been made aware of the fact it had been passed, I thought it gave the wrong message to the business community. While I don't think it would have driven any of them into bankruptcy, I just think it was not the right message to send , particularly to new businesses."
Another subject of concern to the new mayor is the Rio Theatre project.
"I think that can eventually become a real asset for the community," he said. "Right now, however, it's a liability; it needs to be completed. Frankly where the funds are going to come from at this point is a concern. We have a lot of leads, but I can't say that it's going to happen in any certain period of time. I am optimistic about it, but another concern is of course once we get it finished what are we going to do with it? Who's going to occupy it? It's basically a single use facility, so it can't really be used for much else than plays, speakers or concerts. One of the reasons I want to be the representative from the city on that project is that I was one of the main supporters of building that theatre when the Helper Intermountain Theatre group was here. Maybe we got ahead of ourselves a little and should have let that whole thing develop a little more before we decided to make a permanent home for it. But we've got one and a half million dollars in it and it needs to be completed. The up side to that is that so many of the artists in our community are so positive about the theatre. They think we really have something in that facility and I think we need to really plug into that group and see how they can help us to utilize it. The auction some of the people in town are organizing for March is a good example of people wanting to get together to support the facility. That is very encouraging."
Bonacci is also very interested in an open government. He wants peoples input and particularly input from the council members who represent the community.
"I told all the members privately to disagree with me, to challenge my thinking," he stated. "I certainly can't think of all the ideas; I need their help. My style of leadership is to solicit ideas from people around me. I would like to see more public involvement in our city government. One of the things I am amazed by is the enthusiasm some of the people who are not citizens of Helper have for our town and it's future. Many of the business leaders do not live there, but have a more positive view of the town than those that do. I would like to see those same feelings in our citizens."
Another concern Bonacci has is about the public safety in his community.
"Our public safety departments are very good," he said. " Our police and fire departments are functioning well. Our rescue people are some of the best. That's because the city has made these things priorities and the past administration and council need to be congratulated for that."
As far as city staff and working with the council, Bonacci is positive about dealing with everyone in the cities present structure.
"I had no agendas when I ran for this office in the sense that I thought anyone needed to be removed from their jobs," he stated. "I fully intend to keep everyone there. They have all done well in their positions. Of course at the last meeting we talked about tentative assignments for the council members and that will be firmed up at the next meeting."
One of the concerns the mayor has is getting the people of Helper to look at their community as a viable and good place to live.
"I get a lot of comments from citizens of Helper that are negative about the business development in town," states Bonacci. "One person told me that we had too many restaurants in town. I asked them why they were concerned, it was just helping the cities's business base. Sometimes people get in a situation and when things start to change, even for the better, they aren't sure they like it. I want to see the businesses in town succeed and the only way they can do that is if the local citizens support them; not just people from Salt Lake or Price. We need to invest in our own community. We need to support our own business base and do it in a positive way."