City views budget cuts
by Chris Wilson
Money troubles could be looming for the city of Ojai this
coming fiscal year as preliminary budget discussions proved in
a three-plus-hour meeting of the City Council Tuesday evening.
According to City Manager Dan Singer, fiscal year 2001-2002,
which comes to a close at the end of June, will finish strong
thanks to a healthy housing market and a return of tourism that
fell sharply early in the year and after Sept. 11.
"Revenues should finish the year at approximately $5.7 million,
which is well above our $5.5 million budget estimate," Singer
told the council.
Though exact figures won't be known until an audit is completed
later this year, Singer said he was confident that revenue and
expenditure projections will allow the city to finish the year
in the black.
In preparation for distribution of the next fiscal year's general
fund, city staff and outside agencies presented their budget
wish lists before the council.
Representatives from the Public Works, Parks and Recreation,
and law enforcement along with a number of other agencies told
the council what their needs were, how much it would cost and,
if necessary, how they would trim their budgets to fit within
the potentially coming slow year.
Stan Hakes, Public Works director, told the council his department
would need money to fill a vacant maintenance worker position
and among other things would need about $30,000 per year to pay
for maintenance on Cluff Vista Park. He also said he needed money
for one-time traffic calming projects , minor traffic safety
improvements, and services and improvement dollars for Libbey
Park. What he admittedly left out were requests for Maricopa
Highway improvements, left-turn light improvements on Signal
Street and a needed Libbey Park electrical upgrade.
Council also heard from Carol Belser from the Parks and Recreation
Department, Carol Fox of General Services, Doug Hooper from Community
Development. Each shared their needs in detail and, like Hakes,
told where they'd be willing to cut if projected shortfalls come
The primary concern for lack of revenue in the next fiscal year
is a loss of transient residence or bed tax dollars the city
collects from the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. Since the inn is
likely going to close all but 60 of its more than 200 rooms this
summer for a major remodel, the city could miss as much as $500,000
it would otherwise receive from the Valley's largest employer
and arguably the Valley's largest source of tourism revenue.
Though the council hinted that the Inn's project will be approved,
which will add another 90-plus rooms to the luxury resort, even
without the closure, Singer projected revenues of $5.865 million
and expenditures of $5.905 million for the coming fiscal year.
Other possible cuts could come in the form of unstaffed positions
being left unfilled, the possible loss of a DARE officer through
the Ojai Police Department, and a delay in the building of the
permanent skate park.
After the council heard from the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation
and the Ojai Valley Museum, each thanking the council for their
continued support, a large group of representatives from the
Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce stood to ask for $86,000 to run
the Ojai Valley Visitors Bureau..
They told the council how important the Visitor's Bureau is to
promoting tourism in Ojai, and how they have created press packets
that are sent to major media outlets vital to the life of Ojai's
economy. But Councilwoman Sue Horgan and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Devito
both reminded Chamber President Todd Beguelin that after the
council had requested an audit - later clarified by city counsel
Monte Widders to mean an independent review and not a full-fledged
auditing process - of the $83,000-plus they had given the past
Beguelin said they had not completed the audit yet, but they
would get it to them soon. Robert MacNeal, who has been handling
the center's new bookkeeping system, said he could only attest
to the accuracy of the financial statement information from the
beginning of calendar year 2001.
Devito encouraged Beguelin and the other staff from the Chamber's
board of directors to look closely at their budget, realized
that the city is facing a tough financial year ahead, and to
please trim their request. Later in the meeting, he said he would
support up to $75,000 for the Bureau, but not more. And it was
decided that the payments would likely be only made after an
audit was completed.
The meeting adjourned at 10:40 p.m.
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