Growth was a big topic during the city of Menifee’s 2017 ‘State of the City’ address. But more than anything else, optimism was the dominant theme.
Ever since vehicle licensing fee money, earmarked for newly-incorporated cities, was redirected by the state of California in 2011, the city was losing close to $7 million annually, Mayor Neil Winter said in his Thursday morning address at the Menifee Lakes Country Club.
In November, the city passed Measure DD, increasing the sales tax rate by 1 percent, to offset the 5-year-old loss.
Then, in a surprise move, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill returning the vehicle licensing fee funds last month.
“We got our VLF fees back,” Winter told the audience, adding that the city will be able to put $2 million into reserves.
“So anytime you hear something or see something you like, feel free to get crazy,” the mayor said, eliciting some laughter from the crowd.
Thursday’s address was Winter’s first state of the city since he ousted former mayor Scott Mann, whose campaign was marred by campaign finance law violations, in the November election.
Winter, a former elementary school teacher, opened his speech with some humor.
“Most of you know that I don’t do scripts, so this is going be a real challenge for me because I like to just talk on my feet, and that’s not too good when you’re a politician, I understand,” he said. “But I won’t be doing any twittering, so don’t worry about that.”
Despite this pledge, Winter did take a couple of selfies with individuals seated near the front at the event.
Moving onto the serious business, Winter highlighted the major construction projects completed in Menifee over the last year, including the Newport Road interchange project.
Winter said the new interchange has vastly improved traffic conditions over what he and his wife saw while campaigning, when they went to some of the city’s most clogged intersections to see the gridlock.
“We got to see the pain of an infrastructure struggling,” Winter said. “The Newport interchange changed that. You can get across the freeway and go to the other side, east to west, in less than five minutes a couple of miles out.”
Winter said the city is now closer than ever to following up the Newport interchange project with a similar one at Scott Road.
“This project will be monumental for the city of Menifee and neighboring communities,” he said.
The address also featured speeches from Menifee Valley Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Dan McLaughlin and Mt. San Jacinto College President Roger Schultz.
McLaughlin said the hospital will be re-branding itself as the Menifee Global Medical Center.
“We’re going through the licensing process,” he said. “It will be about nine months before we fully adopt the new name.”
The hospital soon plans to add a “luxury chemical detox unit,” McLaughlin said.
“This will be a separate area within the hospital … its sole focus is to provide the detox, the purification, for those that have substance abuse disorder, to get them ready to go into a treatment facility, which will be a referral elsewhere,” he said.
McLaughlin’s goal is “helping people feel good” when they’re in the hospital, he said.
“It’s my job to make sure we have the right people singing out the right script – the same script – at the same time,” he said.
Schultz described the growth in enrollment at MSJC which is one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the state. He also touched on the college’s ultimate plan for the Menifee Valley campus, which he said will eventually include new buildings, a football stadium and parking garages.
In the next year, architects should be working on designs for a 40,000-square-foot math and science building at the Menifee campus, Schultz said.
“Right now, we’re in 14,000 square feet (of labs),” he said. “So, you can imagine the access to the classes that students will need to pursue health care careers and other science areas.”