State budget brings bad news for city
By Jesse Phelps
Though the state of California
has finally passed a budget for the current fiscal year, the
news isn't all wine and roses for cities like Ojai. At least,
that's the tune being sung by city manager Dan Singer.
In a report to the City Council on Tuesday night, Singer painted
a grim picture of Sacramento, saying that state legislators are
attempting to solve the current budget crisis on the backs of
cities and counties. Their latest methods, he proclaimed, have
amounted to a series of "one-time gimmicks, rollovers and
shell-games that did absolutely nothing to solve the fundamental
structural fiscal problems facing California."
As a result of the turmoil to the north, Singer said, Ojai will
feel three significant impacts. First, the city will receive
only half of its monthly sales tax revenues. The state says it
will backfill the borrowed cash later with property tax monies,
but Ojai stands to lose interest payments on half a million dollars
over the course of the year.
The loss of three months worth of Vehicle License Fee revenues
- which the state plans to pay back in 2006 - and impending redevelopment
cuts totaling $40,000 round out the painful new realities for
The current lack of vehicle license fee payments mean a $90,000
loss to the city, said Singer. A total unanticipated shortfall
of $140,000 can be dealt with, he said, in three ways, each seemingly
less desirable than the last.
The city could limit spending with further cutbacks to city services.
Specifically in the cross-hairs, once again, were motorcycle
officer Tom Triplett and funding for outside agencies. A hiring
freeze was also suggested.
Earlier this year, council started on what it hopes is the path
to solving its deficit when it approved the removal of its general
services department, the elimination of three jobs. It also passed
a budget that conservatively sliced into its funding for such
outside agencies as the museum and the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation.
At that time council also elected to dip into its general fund
reserves, a surplus of about $1.5 million from headier days,
to the tune of $754,000. A second option for the current situation,
said Singer, would be to further deplete that emergency stash.
Or, he said, council could wait and see if some potential offsets
might be realized. The most likely source, he said, would be
fees from building upgrades and new developments.
Predictably, the council members agreed to a man that sucking
more cash from the general fund reserves was a bad option. In
another non-surprise, they split on which services should be
the first to go.
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad adamantly opposed various attempts to
put Triplett in the firing line. "I'll continue to support
him as long as I can," she said. Triplett's advocates say
he is irreplaceable as a traffic monitor, freeing up his fellow
officers for more pressing duties.
His detractors, who have included at various times councilwoman
Carol Smith and community activist and attorney Leonard Klaif,
point to his salary as seemingly the easiest way to find a reasonable
amount of money to reallocate.
For now, the council elected not to take action but to see how
the finances play out over the next several months. The issue
will resurface on a subsequent council agenda, sometime before
January, Singer said. And with prospects growing cloudier every
day in Sacramento, help may be even further away.
The Ojai Valley News
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