Approving the Budget, More Water Talk, and Medical Marijuana takes Root

Ojai City Council Meeting Tues 10/10

 

By Jay Murphy

This Tues evening the Ojai City Council held two meetings, a joint session with the Parks and Recreation Commission and the regular Council meeting. Both meetings were held in the council chambers at Ojai’s City Hall. Business began at 6:00 with the roll call and Pledge of Allegiance. All members were present.

The hour long joint session consisted primarily of topics brought forth by Parks and Recreation for clarification with the City Council. It seems that, although Ojai’s youth population remains static, there is an increasing influx from outside city proper. This surge in demand is straining both the existing facilities as well as revenues to expand. Improvements to Sarzotti Park were noted as excellent but “not enough” to absorb ever increasing demand. Maximizing use of Soule Park will be looked into as well.

Ojai Council, Photo Jay Murphy

Avenues explored were making a “valley wide parks district”, partnership with Ojai Unified School District particularly as it pertains to their baseball and basketball facilities and interest in the Chaparral School site, a hot topic in Ojai lately. Pool facilities are also much in demand as swim classes are routinely filled. Related to that, Council member Weirick suggested that there might be a problem with instructors without CPR/first aid training. The solution seemed to be to send all instructors to the same program that is used by the high school staff.

The meeting was very informal and the relationship between the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission seemed excellent.

The regular session of the City Council began promptly at seven. First item on the agenda was, once again, water. Angelo Spandrio, Ojai’s best source for water information, brought a guest to present some options for the Council to consider. Regina Hirsch spoke about grants available to the community through Prop 1 funding. According to Regina, funds are both plentiful and available and she has already helped Thatcher School with a grant in excess of one million dollars. She reviewed a number of options available to Ojai and said it was essential to have a “collaborative plan” to participate. She is looking for assistance from the community in the form of volunteers to assist. Needless to say, the Council was very interested and will be pursuing this potential revenue source.  By the way, anyone interested in Ojai’s water issue can find much info on Angelo Spandrio’s Facebook page.

Next on the agenda was approval of the David Mason memorial plaque to be placed in Libby Park. The plaque was shown to the Council and the public and will be installed on the Pergola in the park. Additionally, a group is looking into planting a tree in the park in David’s memory.

The meeting then moved to public comment and discussion on the medical marijuana business in Ojai, which appears to be moving forward. According to speaker Jeff Kroll, he and City Manager Steve McClary have had very productive discussions on how to advance the process. Other speakers expressed concern that unless Ojai moved more quickly local vendors would lose their market to existing business elsewhere in Ventura County. One speaker indicated that Ventura has already moved to license vendors to deliver their product which would directly effect the local market and revenues. A request was made for the City of Ojai to simply follow State guidelines rather than change them. The issue appears to be moving to the front page for Ojai.

No doubt the biggest item on the agenda was the budget with City Manager Steve McClary giving a formal presentation to the Council and audience. According to McClary,  the 2016-2017 budget levels remain similar and there is a slight surplus of around $33,000 left for the contingency fund. Mr McClary points out however that revenues are peaking out but that city expenses will continue to rise as more non-residents use the city proper. He sees a need for ever increasing revenues as essential for the city to fill it’s goals.

Steve McClary City Manager giving his budget presentation, Photo Jay Murphy

A specific issue was addressed about the County’s Sheriff coverage and its cost. It seems that although only $2.6 million was budgeted for the service the actual expense was almost $3.1 million leaving a potential $400,000 shortfall in future budgets. While the discussion had lots of participants no one was sure how the expense was generated. It was agreed to pursue the details and report the findings later.

Mayor Johnston then gave an informal presentation from the dais indicating his concern for the financial situation that Ojai was approaching. Mayor Johnston who has much experience in the financial side of municipal government, is worried that we are barely breaking even although we are at a very positive place economically. He states that unfunded ” liabilities are “not sexy” but are eating the budget up. Examples included the medical and pension programs that are on the books currently that might not be sustainable in an economic downturn. The Mayor thinks that “every 15 years or so the bubble bursts” and that might be just around the corner.

It seemed unanimous that although the budget process was much better this time around, much needed to be done to get a handle on both liabilities and revenues.

Along with the budget presentation, a number of local interest groups spoke up to support their requests for funding. Notable was the Green Coalition and the Ojai Museum, both of which had multiple speakers.The groups were requesting funding in the $50-$60 thousand range and stated their case to the Council. At the end of the discussion period the budget was approved unanimously.

The discussion and approval of City Hall as an historic landmark turned into a good deal of back and forth as to whether the entire property should be land-marked, or just the certain structures that are close to original. Concern was expressed that land-marking the whole property would effect potential plans by future councils. In the past there were discussions about using some of the property for affordable housing.  Mayor Johnston was of the opinion that since the city owned the deed it could do what he wanted now and let future generations worry about future issues.

The marathon meeting ended just before 11:00 pm.

Jay Murphy is retired and living in Ojai


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