Budget cuts likely to hit hard on city
By Jesse Phelps
The city of Ojai and the libraries in the
Ojai Valley will be missing a large source of funding for the
next two years and possibly beyond - totaling more than a quarter
of the city's present $6 million budget.
California Gov. Gray Davis has submitted his budget for the coming
year and cuts in the public library fund and the withdrawal of
vehicle license funding from municipalities such as Ojai will
mean cutbacks in services and lost jobs.
Davis plans to trim $34.6 billion from the state budget by eliminating
$4.2 billion in state payments to counties and cities. Ojai,
which receives about $500,000 annually, expects to lose about
$167,717 of that total this year. The proposal eliminates two-thirds
of the remaining funding in 2003-2004, dropping Ojai's payments
Vehicle license fees are charged at the Department of Motor Vehicles
above and beyond other fees, such as the vehicle registration
fee and air quality fees. The state legislature began a series
of reductions in the VLF in 1998. The fee has been reduced by
67.5 percent in the years since.
In the face of lost revenues, politicians statewide are angling
to increase the fees again, or as an alternative, to raise taxes.
Ojai City Manager Dan Singer said the Ojai City Council can't
raise taxes itself, with the exception of the transient occupany
tax, also known as the bed tax. But with the Ojai Valley Inn
& Spa's 15-month expansion slated for the entire year and
more, he didn't see any point in raising it. "What good
will it do to increase that if the inn is closed? It would put
the inn and other local businesses at a disadvantage if we did
raise those rates appropriately.
"The reason (the budget cuts are) not timely for us is because
of the Ojai Valley Inn's expansion is getting under way this
winter," Singer said. "For all of the next fiscal year,
the inn will be heavy into expansion. It's kind of like being
hit below the belt and then being kicked again once you've fallen
to the ground."
Singer said that the VLF cut will reduce Ojai's budget by a relatively
small increment at least as compared to lost revenue from the
inn's expansion. The inn's bed tax revenues make up "at
least 20 percent of our budget," said Singer. "We're
in a fortunate position that our dependency (on the VLF) is less
than other communities. Total VLF for us makes up about eight
percent of our budget. The cut would represent close to six percent
of our budget."
Singer said it's premature to begin the debate over what kinds
of services and community programs might be affected by the cuts
and losses of bed tax revenues.
"I can't really quantify that specifically, in part because
the council will have to make those decisions at budget time.
I can predict that the level of service that we've come to enjoy
in the community will be affected," he said. "The goal
will be to look at necessary services as opposed to desirable
services. Rather than look at what services will be cut, our
approach will be to look at what we have to have versus what
we can do without for a while."
Singer also stressed the importance of letting the political
process run its course. "The talk that is floating out there
regards the governor's proposal, and that's a term that should
be in caps," he said. "It will be subject to intense
scrutiny, legislative action. You can predict that the Democrats
and Republicans won't agree. I'm not getting too worked up about
it because it's going to change. We'll ask council for some strong
letters to the governor on why we can't allow this to happen."
Singer said more clarification is forthcoming on the ramifications
for Ojai after he presents his mid-year budget report Feb. 11.
In the meantime, he said, "We can encourage organizations
in the community to write or call their legislators in what amounts
to taking away local services."
In addition to keeping vehicle license fee revenues, Davis has
proposed a dramatic cut in library funding statewide. The proposed
budget would halve support for California's libraries, from $32
million to $16 million over the next fiscal year. Ventura County's
portion of the state's Public Library Fund, once in the neighborhood
of $750,000 a year, was reduced to $403,000 for the past 12 months.
Now, says Ventura County Librarian Starrett Kreissman, the county
expects a figure in the $200,000 range.
Kreissman said the impact will certainly be felt in a town like
Ojai, which prides itself on the quality of its library. "I
can tell you that in Ojai, our library is open 55 hours a week.
Our library is now only going to be open 43 hours a week. Between
now and the end of this fiscal year, it's about a $43,000 cut
for the library. I believe if we're cut again next year, that's
about a $110,000 cut for the library," she said.
Kreissman explained that new book orders are on hold to avoid
other types of cost cutting. "What we've decided in the
county library system, we're not going to buy any more books
at this time because we want to keep the libraries open as much
as we can."
The Ojai library gets most of its funding from property taxes.
The library presently operates with a memorandum of understanding
with the county. Libraries receive a percentage, roughly .01
percent, of per-capita property taxes received in their districts.
However, Kreissman said, "What goes back to one community
may be enough, while in others it doesn't. In Ojai, that wasn't
enough. Ojai passed a parcel tax."
Traditionally, community and city support for the library has
been strong. Kreissman pointed out that "the city has been
very generous in the past in terms of general fund contributions.
And people in Ojai voted to tax themselves. It's the state budget
that's impacting us, and unless the state budget gets healthier,
we're in trouble."
The library also stands to lose money the state has provided
to make up for the loss of vehicle licensing fee revenue. Under
the current budget proposal, the library would get significantly
less than the $600,000 it expected from those funds.
The cuts to the Public Library Fund are bad enough, said Kreissman,
that a solution in the near future seems out of reach. And when
it comes to attempting to mitigate the effects of reductions
in library money from the VLF cuts, she says, "We haven't
even figured that out yet."
The Ojai Valley News
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