When you live in a rural area, you often have to wear multiple hats.
The mayor of Ely, Nev., knows all about that. When she’s not tending to her mayoral duties, she’s busy at her sewing and uniform shop she’s managed for almost 30 years.
Melody VanCamp was appointed as the Mayor of Ely two years ago, and elected into the position in June.
Ely is about 240 miles from Las Vegas, and is the seat of White Pine County.
As part of a special series of interviews with local and regional mayors, Melody VanCamp joins KNPR to talk about the economic and regional challenges facing Ely in the coming year.
"Usually when cities disincorporate it's because they can't provide services to their citizens. They're going broke. They have no money and the last ditch effort is to be disincorporated. But in our case, we are not in bad financial shape. We run very lean. We don't have very many employees, 33 employees. We've run this way for years. We have a fund balance. We have a lot of money. We're solvent. But on the other hand, the county is going into their fourth year of deficit spending. It's a money grab. We own the land fill, the water treatment plant. We have the parks. We have money. It was more of a money grab."
On the strategic plan for the city:
"We're totally excited. The city of Ely has never had a mission statement or a vision statement. We got those two items into play. We've even got them on our website now. It's never been done before but we spent two days on this. And the thing is, every small town is looking for some big industry to come in and help the tax base. And most everyone knows that is not going to happen. We feel that Ely has a lot to offer. We want to see more use of natural resources. We need to bump up the tourism. And we need to build the population. But we are in dire need for some kind of economic viability."
"I'm in the middle of getting a committee together that will talk about economic development and very important tourism. We kind of lack signage. And we need to promote the wonderful things that we have around here in Ely."
On bringing more visitors to Ely:
"But we need to build on those things [Great Basin National Park and the Nevada Northern Railway Museum]. We've got the dark skies and also the train. But I don't think people realize that we are in the middle of nowhere, but in the center of everywhere. And we have fantastic gravel roads and all kinds of roads for bicycle riding."
"We're on the main drag of Highway 50. We get a lot of bikers coming through here. We need to be biker friendly. We also have fabulous hunting. We have world-class hunting. We're trying to get the fishing going. We have the great outdoors and it's minutes away. And what's really nice is it's free."
On balancing fiscal responsibility and infrastructure improvements:
Our thought is possibly, we need to generate funding to work on our infrastructure. I think we can do a little bit of everything.
On generating funding:
"Well, of course, our road fund is pretty broke. We are working on CDGB (Community Development Block Grants) grants. One other thing is we're going to try to get a hold of some of our room tax money. And 99 percent of all of the hotels and motels are in the city of Ely. And we get no transportation funding and it's the tourists that are using our roads. An idea that was tossed around is getting a little bit of that funding. That comes in every month and we can earmark it for some infrastructure."
"People don't want to hear about it. And it's a dirty word. But we may have to increase the water, our water bills. But let me tell you one thing, it's amazing to me people don't think twice about buying a new smart phone, all the latest technology. And they spend all kinds of money for all that technology, hundreds and hundreds of dollars every year to get the new and the greatest stuff. But when you talk about water, which you can't go one day without water, and you talk about a hike in rates, they all come unhinged. What they don't realize is that is a problem in cities all over the United States that infrastructure has never been addressed."
On Ely's dependence on the mining industry:
"It's the largest employer that we have. It brings in lots of money. It's important to us. And I know the price of metals is down. And they have downsized a little bit. As important it is to the city of Ely, we need to diversify. So, in times like this when the mine has to have a slow down, a decrease in production, we need to diversify and have other things to bring money in. And that was what we were really working on tourism. That is all year long and we need to really promote that."
On the biggest economic challenge in Ely this coming year:
"We need to sustain our population. And it would be really nice to jump start the Ely economy. And I think we could do it with the tourism and really feed on the tourism. We need a little more of the pack space. A little more population would help the cause some. While there is an economic slowdown, we need to take advantage of our cheap gas prices. That's why we're focusing on what we have to offer in the tourism industry."
Melody VanCamp, mayor, Ely
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