Vote split on city budget
By Jesse Phelps
Over the objections of two council
members, the final general fund budget for fiscal year 2003-2004
was approved in a split vote in council chambers on Tuesday night.
The new general fund budget predicts revenues for the coming
year to total $5,190,400 and predicts expenditures at $5,944,400,
a shortfall of $754,000 that will need to be made up through
the use of general fund reserves.
Last year, a balanced general fund budget came in at about $5.8
million in terms of both revenues and expenditures.
Adhering to recommendations from the council outlined at its
meeting on June 10, City Manager Dan Singer managed to lessen
the amount of money that the city will take from the reserves
by more than $50,000 over the last two weeks by cutting services
and support to local agencies and city departments and increasing
Among the specific cuts added after the preliminary budget session
were the loss of the city's general services department and the
three jobs associated with it; reductions in support to Ojai
Day, the Visitor Bureau, the Ojai Valley Museum and the Ojai
Valley Youth Foundation and associated projects; reductions in
expenditures such as tree maintenance, building and vehicle maintenance
and training expenses for city employees; and increases in recreation
and facility use fees.
Tom Triplett, Ojai's full-time motorcycle officer, was on the
hot seat but survived the present round of cuts. Other programs
and services narrowly surviving the final cut round included
earthquake coverage for city buildings, the final $20,000 of
museum funding (it was cut 20 percent, by $5,000), technology
plan and Web site upgrades and city employee cost of living upgrades.
Singer prepared a thorough six page staff report, which took
nearly half an hour to get through, and given that the council
meeting also incorporated three assessment district votes, by
the time the budget came up for discussion, council seemed ready
to vote on it without much comment.
That didn't stop council member David Bury, who became the most
adamant detractor. He felt that the loss of three jobs didn't
fit his concept of sharing the pain, saying he found it unfair
to put people out of work. He said he would have been more vocal
about the issue sooner had he understood that jobs were on the
"I must not have read between the lines," said Bury.
"I'm not comfortable with the concept of eliminating staff
to achieve our goals."
The other dissenting vote came from councilwoman Carol Smith,
who felt that Triplett's $120,000 per year cost to the city was
an unnecessary expenditure this year and said she would like
to see that money added back into the reserve supply.
Mayor Pro-Tem Sue Horgan wondered about the possibility of letting
Triplett go at some point down the line, should the financial
waters become even more perilous.
Police chief Gary Pentis said that would be a possibility and
said the city would maintain the cycle, which it bought with
grant funding. Getting Triplett back, however, would be more
difficult, according to Pentis, who also pointed out that should
he leave for another community, Ojai would have spent the money
to train him for another community's benefit.
In the end, the city adhered to its own policy regarding general
fund reserves, which stipulates a minimum 50 percent reserve
fund balance based on the fiscal year operating budget.
"As general fund expenditures for 2003-2004 are projected
to be just above $5.9 million," said Singer, "The general
fund reserve must thereby maintain a minimum $2.97 million in
Because the current city reserves stand at $3.75 million, Singer
said that the use of up to $755,000 could be accommodated without
violating the city's resolution, making the adopted budget's
requirement of $754,000 to backfill losses from transient occupancy
taxes lost due to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa's expansion and
remodel acceptable in the eyes of most council members.
The city faces its current financial struggles without the hope
of much aid from the state, which Horgan described as a "3000-pound
elephant we've been waiting to sit on us." Singer pointed
to lobbying and partisan squabbling at the state level and said,
"It's a pretty sad state of affairs up in the capitol."
Horgan, who two weeks ago seemed the staunchest adversary to
the initial budget, was somewhat assuaged by the staff's two-year
financial forecast, which anticipates that when the inn remodel
is finished, the city will be able to balance its budget and
avoid dipping further into reserves.
The Ojai Valley News
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