When Julia Ratti first won a seat on the Sparks City Council in 2008, she hoped to focus on the urban core and making Sparks a more environmentally-friendly city.
However, those goals were delayed as the city faced bigger challenges brought on by the economic recession.
“There were all those wonderful things that I wanted to do, but the reality is that the crash timed pretty much almost exactly with my election, and the first two years were all about managing the budget just to make sure that the city was going to make it,” said Ratti, who has announced she won’t be running for a third term on the council in 2016.
During the recession years, the council had to overcome many challenges affecting the city, including a reduction in workforce, reorganized service levels and keeping the budget balanced.
“I’m proud of our council in that we really did get out in front of the recession as quickly as we could and made tough decisions early on and that, to a certain degree, is serving us now because the city has been pretty stable through the recession compared to others,” Ratti said.
Despite the budgetary hardships, the council has been able to make significant progress on various initiatives, she said. Those include code enforcement, single-stream recycling, urban agriculture ordinances, and updated zoning codes that help make it easier for new businesses to come to Sparks.
During her time in office, Ratti also focused on improving bike lanes and public transit within the community, along with working closely with REMSA, the ambulance and paramedic service, to improve and integrate the emergency medical services system.
One of her favorite projects, however, was saving Last Chance Joe, the long-standing statue that was moved from the Nugget to the Sparks Heritage Museum, where he could remain a cherished part of the city’s history.
“If you don’t jump on things like that, you lose them,” Ratti said. “They get destroyed and they go away and you don’t have a chance to change that.”
Before her term is up in November 2016, Ratti hopes to raise $10,000 to finish restoring Last Chance Joe. She also plans to keep the Victorian Square redevelopment project moving forward and wants to set a vision for the Oddie Boulevard corridor to promote redevelopment and improve pedestrian and bicycle access.
According to Ratti, some challenges that Sparks may face over the next few year are improving intergovernmental communications, managing the growth from an influx of new businesses and residents moving to the Sparks area, and making sure that the city is able to accommodate the changing preferences of its residents, while maintaining high levels of service.
She said she hopes that more people living and working in downtown will bring a renewed vibrancy and vitality to the area to help local businesses thrive.
“I think the city is, by necessity, going to go through a bit of a transformation,” Ratti said. “We know that the millennial generation is as large in numbers as the boomer generation was, and we know that the millennial generation has different preferences. .. We’re going to have to bust out of some of our old patterns of behavior to meet the needs of this next generation.”
Despite the twists and turns that she has encountered during her time as an elected city official, Ratti said she is excited that the council has been able to make progress on initiatives that will revitalize Sparks and improve the quality of life for residents. She also encourages anyone who wants to make the city a better place to consider running for the council.
“I have had the opportunity to have some really wonderful experiences, learning so much more about how my community really operates and where there are real opportunities to make a difference– to make the world a better place,” Ratti said. “That’s a great gift, to actually be able to make a difference.”