Budget Approval Raises Measure O Questions at June 12 Ventura City Council Meeting

By Kevin Harris

The Ventura City Council unanimously approved its latest city budget during its  meeting on June 12, 2017.  

The 2017-18 operating budget stands at $278 million, but with another $9 million or so set to be made available from Measure O – approved by voters last November, within weeks. Measure O adds a local half-cent sales tax, and was passed by the voters for the purposes of furthering “clean water, beaches, street repair and safety.” Though one key spending decision was made for Measure O funds at the meeting – to fully fund Ventura’s Fire Station #4, the rest of those funds are still up for grabs, and will likely generate a healthy debate in coming weeks. 

The council meeting’s budget presentation was given by Gilbert Garcia, Ventura’s Finance and Technology Director, who opined that 2017-18 is a transitional budget year (as opposed to a static one). A few key data points about the new budget are as follows: 

  • About one-third of the total budget goes toward personnel services. 
  • One half of the General Fund (GF) revenue comes from property and sales taxes.
  • In Ventura, auto sales generate, by far, the biggest chunk of sales tax revenues.
  • Two-thirds of the GF budget goes toward personnel services, such as police, firefighters and city staff. 
  • The vast majority of Capital Improvement Funds goes towards transportation, water and wastewater. 
  • Ventura ends up $64 million below the Gann Limit in its 2017-18 budget, meaning it did not use all of the public funds to the legal limit. (Named after Paul Gann, this was Proposition 4 in 1979 that placed appropriations limits on CA and local governments). 

Gilbert Garcia

Immediately following the presentation by Garcia was a Q&A and comment period by Council members, at which point City Manager Mark Watkins attempted to answer some of their concerns. Already, Measure O and its related issues began to require clarification, and to some degree, saw discussion and debate. Council Member Mike Tracy was particularly concerned about Ventura’s visual blight. 

“The question I have to ask the City Manager is, does this budget give you the ability to begin to tackle those problems of weeds in the roadway and sidewalks, median maintenance, litter and trash which is out of control, maintaining street signs and signal equipment, trees… Does this budget provide you the tools to begin the process of recovering our streets?,” Tracy asked. 

Watkins responded by saying that they put Measure O on the ballot specifically to address all of the things Tracy just listed, but the council member did not seem satisfied by that answer. 

“If we wait for Measure O money to begin tackling that problem… We won’t make it,” Tracy said. “Some of these things are essential city services… We’re going to have to figure out a way to do it, because it’s degrading our community,” he added. 

Council Member Christy Weir sought clarification on certain spending reductions in the new budget, including categories such as “Safe & Clean Parks,” “Street Cleaning,” “Maintenance,” and others. “Are we looking at putting Measure O money towards a lot of these budget items that need more funding?” 

Garcia replied, “Absolutely,” to which the City Attorney immediately responded by saying that they are not supplementing budget items with Measure O. “Measure O is intended to be above and beyond everything we did before,” Watkins said. 

Mark Watkins – City Mgr.

Mayor Erik Nasarenko asked if they could, and should, continue paying down the city’s CalPERS debt every year, instead of just making a one-time payment. Garcia suggested that yes, it would make very good financial sense to continue paying that down so long as that option remains available. 

“I would just express my own interest in continuing to attack that unfunded, accrued liability, making payments as aggressively as we can,” the Mayor said. 

There were no public speakers, and the Council passed the budget unanimously. 

Community Development Block Grant / Salary & Benefits Resolutions

Other business conducted during the Council Meeting included the continuation of a Public Hearing on the adoption of a 2017-18 Community Development Block Grant, which was unanimously approved… but without the vote of several Council Members, who recused themselves due to their participation on various local committees. This was to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest. 

The Council also adopted a Salary and Benefits Resolution (Formal Item #8), which formalized many aspects of staff positions, but also included locking in some pay raises, and making some temporary positions permanent. 

Council Member Weir commented to the public that while it may appear the Council just quickly agreed to all terms without discussion, “we have been negotiating these issues for the past year during closed session.” 

You can watch this and other past meetings by going to www.cityofventura.ca.gov, then clicking on the “Videos” button, and going to the “available archives” section, where the video can be watched or downloaded. 

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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