17 News Special Report: City of the Future

Better schools and safer streets are things most parents want for their children but often times the cities we live don't have the finances to fund these priorities to fullest. That's not the case in Shafter. It figured out a way to generate a budget surplus and invest in what matters.

Better schools and safer streets are things most parents want for their children but often times the cities we live don't have the finances to fund these priorities to fullest. That's not the case in Shafter. It has figured out a way to generate a budget surplus and invest in what matters.

With a population just over 16,000 to many Shafter is a small farming community 18 miles west of Bakersfield. But beyond windmills and the almond trees Shafter is more than it seems.

"It's really run like a well run business, not a government as you would run a government," said Scott Hulbert, Asst. City Manager for the City of Shafter.

With a $28 million annual budget, the city decided to take its finances into its own hands, not waiting for tax revenue to come to them but attracting businesses. The city said so far this added $7 million in additional tax revenue a year. This allows Shafter to operate with no debt.

"Shafter has a strong balance sheet," said City Manager John Guinn. "We spend more time on our revenue side of the balance sheet then we do on the expenditure side of the balance sheet."

The big reason for that is the logistics park off 7th Standard Road. Owned by Paramount Farming Company Shafter has been helping lease the land piece by piece to companies like Target, Weatherford and Baker Hughes.

"They had what was needed and they did what was necessary to attract Baker Hughes to this area," said Rick Pierucci, Managing Director for Bakers Hughes in Shafter.

Their newest partner is Ross Warehouse.

"We're standing in the middle of a industrial park with over 3 million square feet of construction underway right now," said Scott Hurlbert, Asst. City Manager for Shafter.

"We are attracting companies from all over the world not just companies in California," said Brent Green, Director of Business Development in Shafter.

The city estimates it's created 6,000 jobs in the last five years.

"We do a number of things but probably the thing we have gotten best at is providing an environment for companies to be competitive and successful and to not have any surprises," said Guinn.

The City of Shafter said Shafter's location is what makes their business model ideal.

"We are within 300 miles of 14 percent of all the U.S. citizens," said Green.

But more than location Shafter credits their staff many hired from the private sector.

"I was a VP for Calcott," said Green.

"I had a software company, a consulting company," said Hurlbert.

The man behind it all is City Manager John Guinn. Although he doesn't like to take the credit, 20 years ago he and other city council members started with a vision.

"We decided we could either hitch our wagon to capitalism or hitch our wagon to Sacramento," said Guinn.

They chose capitalism.

"We do not want to be dependent," said Guinn. "We want to be independent."

But it's not just about making money. While other cities struggle to respond to calls in 11 minutes, Shafter is there in at least two minutes.

"It's kind of nice that when you call 911 and you're going to get the follow-up," said Brian Smith, Deputy Chief of Police for Shafter.

That may be because the city has the resources to invest in the department.

"Here in Shafter the officers just now signed a contract for a 4 percent raise and supervisors are getting a 7 percent raise," said Deputy Chief Smith. "Last year they got a 4 percent raise."

Compare that to Bakersfield Police officers who last year got their first raise in six years.

The city is also investing in cameras. Right now from the downtown dispatch center, officers can watch over the industrial park from an eye in the sky. It's a view that's already allowed the department to catch at least a couple of thieves trying to steal tools last year.

The department plans to install 35 more in non-residential areas across the city.

"You know what, crimes are still going to be committed but people are going to learn if you're going to commit a crime Shafter is not the place to do it because if we're not on you right away the cameras will be on it," said Deputy Chief Smith.

At the schools the investment continues. With a $500,000 allotment set aside from the city budget, the Richland School District is one of a few in the state with municipal help.

"I just can't think of another school in the state that really puts their effort into partnering with the schools and taking local responsibility for their success," said Dr. Ken Bergevin, Superintendent of the Richland School District.

Which is part of the reason Shafter may be able to unify all of it's schools into one district. Right now the high school is part of the Kern High School District, separate from the elementary school district. But in 2010 the city hired Dr. David Franz to see if joining the schools was financially feasible and educationally smart.

"The idea in Shafter is we are going to try to rely on ourselves," said Dr. Franz. "We are going to try to bet on ourselves and if we fail then we are going to try to adjust and do better."

Richland School District Superintendent said this will allow continuity from kindergarten to graduation.

"Shafter High School is one of 18 schools and, if they were part of a unified school district, the idea would be that with local support and local control that would be able to be 100 percent focused on the great things happening there," said Superintendent Bergevin.

The goal is ultimately to create an educated workforce needed to fill the constant creation of jobs, a model John Guinn said isn't for everyone, but in Shafter it's creating their city of the future.

"You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Green. "It'll be great to look at this project over the next decade really it will be an example for a lot of California."

Marcos Torres is one of those workers. He is under 30 but in Shafter he is already the lead engineer on one of the city's top development projects. He's constructing a rail line because right after college the city gave him a chance.

"The public works director called me and said if I was willing to take a intern position over the summer and I said yes," said Torres.

That internship turned into a full-time job and then some.

"You're becoming pretty much a part of something big," said Marcos Torres, a Civil Engineer for the City of Shafter.

Torres said it's big because unlike other cities, Shafter has a vision to be financially independent.

"It's quite interesting thinking about other cities and hearing about how they're having problems with finances and going bankrupt," said Torres. "In Shafter you hear nothing of it."

Part of city's rail spur has been completed for years. It connects businesses at the logistics park with the main BNSF track.

"It's probably one of the key attractions for logistics on the west coast of the United States," said Green.

The unique part is it is completely owned by the city.

"That's something that's hard for people to get there head around but it's a tremendous asset for the city and a tremendous asset for the region actually and you're going to see people locate here because of it," said Green.

Which is why the city is laying down even more track.

But the investment doesn't stop there. The last few years, the city built a 25 mile ring of fiber optic line around the entire city, a conduit for ultra high speed internet.

"There are some businesses that is a requirement that they have high speed broadband availability the types of services that are difficult to deliver over copper," said Hurlbert.

The idea is to lease the line space to a private company who will sell the internet to businesses and beyond.

"The vision is ultimately is that every address in Shafter will have fiber optic access," said Hurlbert.

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