Mayor Penny Lilburn described Highland as a city that’s thriving and fiscally sound in the face of numerous challenges during her State of the Community Address hosted by the Highland Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, May 21, at Immanuel Baptist Church.
In the annual update of city business, Lilburn highlighted recent developments in infrastructure, public works projects and public safety.
The city serves a population of approximately 56,000 with an overall budget of $69 million and a staff of 36, Lilburn reported.
Lilburn praised the city’s practice of contracting for outside services as a key factor in saving costs and more efficiently spending the city’s tax dollars.
“I believe all of our city council has the same mindset and philosophy ⎯ that we don’t spend more money than we have, we don’t take on projects we can’t fund or sustain,” Lilburn said.
The city contracts with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement, Cal Fire for firefighting and paramedic services, Burrtec for trash and street sweeping services and East Valley Water District for water and sewer services.
With a general fund of approximately $16 million, the city has also budgeted $9.5 million for law enforcement and $7.5 million for fire services.
She mentioned that public safety issues, in particular, face many challenges including those arising from the passing of Prop 47, homelessness and state mandates.
“It’s a daily challenge as the state of California continues to lower its standards of quality of living and they push their agenda on our city,” she said.
The Highland Police Department answered more than 48,000 calls for service in 2018, which is up from last year.
While overall calls are up, the crimes of murder, rape and robbery are down in the city, Lilburn reported. She added that many of the calls are related to homelessness issues.
According to the 2019 San Bernardino County Point-In-Time Homeless Count, homelessness is a growing problem countywide. The count reported 2,118 homeless in the county and Highland volunteers count 62 of those in Highland.
To better meet these challenges, the city has added a third Quality of Life Task Force deputy as well as a sixth sergeant to the department.
On the fire side, Highland Fire Department, with its three stations, responded to approximately 7,500 in 2018, also up from 2017. The greatest number of calls was for medical assistance, many related to homeless.
Thanks to a grant from San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the department also added a new fire engine and purchased 32 breathing apparatuses and four EKGs.
The city also added a third code enforcement officer in the past year.
“Code enforcement plays a huge role in our city’s success or deterioration,” Lilburn said, adding that the city has taken a proactive stance against issues arising from absentee landowners.
When addressing commercial and residential development in Highland, Lilburn said it is not the city’s mission to buy, sell or develop projects with taxpayers’ dollars, however the city can provide a “fertile environment” for developers to invest in the city.
This means adding residential “rooftops,” which the city has with the Mediterra, Wood Bridge, Glenrose Ranch, Orchard at Highland Hills projects.
In the past year over 90 miles of the city’s streets have been maintained or fully rehabilitated. The city also purchased from Edison and updated to high pressure LED more than 2,800 streetlights for maintenance and energy cost savings.
“These are not glossy projects but are desperately needed and wanted by our city residents,” Lilburn said.
The city is also anticipating the widening of State Route 210 from Sterling Avenue to San Bernardino Avenue, a long-awaited project. The $177 million San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) project is scheduled to begin construction this fall and for completion in summer of 2022.
In conjunction with this project the SR210 and Base Line interchange will be upgraded with additional lanes from Buckeye Street to Seine Avenue and new freeway ramps. This $32 million project is cooperation between the city of Highland, SBCTA and the California Department of Transportation.