Oxnard City Council passes $359+ million budget, big cuts; Perello’s surprise

By George Miller

The Oxnard budget passed Tuesday night, 6-23-15, right on schedule, along with those for many assessment districts and supplemental property taxes. It was clear that the Council had been moving moving toward a consensus, even with strong opposition from the public safety unions and many members of the public. The alternative was insolvency, leading to bankruptcy. Sources have revealed that public /union outcry did have some effect on mitigating the public safety cut measures.

Officials keep saying no one will be laid off, but the bottom line is that there will be staff reductions and plenty of non-full time non-regular employees will be out. The Fire Dept. overtime reductions are large and must affect service, although they might be mitigated at least somewhat by cuts in special events participation, scheduling and procedural changes. Officials also say that no front line response employees will be reduced, but support function cuts, no matter how expertly planned and executed, will likely affect front line performance.

Big cuts were made in most departments after hard decisions on priorities were made. Additionally, $16 million will be borrowed from the Measure O sales tax fund for public safety to balance the budget/meet expenses, along with a hypothetical $4mm in uncommitted “employee  concessions.” The  so-called “Carman override” property tax rate to fund public safety pensions rate was lowered (to about $10.5MM) from $76.63/$100K assessed value to $67.56, because it was in violation of the law. 

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The crowds were missing at the start of the 6-23-15 Oxnard City Council meeting, where a $359 million dollar budget and other major items were passed. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

Attendance was far lighter at this session, as “budget fatigue” had set in after many rounds of debate and discussion about the audit, the increasingly alarming deficits uncovered, followed by contention about funding and spending priorities.

This budget is very strong medicine since it reflects major adjustments for financial realities not previously known, or at least not revealed. Bert Perello said: “We were eating our seed” (he’s from a farming family). It required significant cuts, reallocations, adjustment and belt tightening. It is not clear that all the cut measures will actually work and it may require further ratcheting down to balance the budget.  This budget probably could not have been done without the assistance of consultants Management Partners/Dave Millican, Rene Sloan, actuary John Martell and other outside support.

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After presentations and questions drew to a close and all of the public speakers had run out of words or time, Councilman Bert Perello surprised his peers with a dramatic and passionate presentation, outlining a list of prior conditions for budget approval, unveiling something he titled “Councilman Bert Perello’s FY 16 Budget Adoption Policy Governance Oversight Performance Action Plan.”   This triggered another round of discussion and altered the tenor of  the debate.

The rest of the Council refused to bundle it into the budget package, but largely endorsed its content and did agree to use it as a starting framework in September, which caused Perello to drop his opposition.  The budget passed 7-1, with only Councilman Bryan MacDonald dissenting strongly while the rest of the Council and Housing Commissioners voted for it. He is especially concerned about public safety cuts (he’s a retired Oxnard Assistant Police Chief).

Councilman Perello’s 6-23-15 letter:

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Council members were irritated that Perello dropped this on them like he did, but were were largely in agreement with his points. However, they would not accept them as preconditions for budget passage. Mayor Flynn suggested that it might not be possible to pass such an amendment without prior agendizing. But City Counsel Fischer saw no legal impediment to doing so, with the possible exception of an item establishing a $4 million “lockbox” fund for City Council discretion to meet budget priorities. He appeared to relax his objections when Perello explained that it was funding already considered in the budget.

Name Date Duration Agenda Minutes Video
City Council Meeting June 23, 2015 06h 59m Agenda Minutes Video
LaDolceVita

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City Manager Greg Nyhoff didn’t seem to have any problems with Perello’s plan, which he called performance measurements. It looked more to us like a review mandate and list of projects to be reviewed. We saw no quantifyable objectives to measure, so those would still need to be developed. Nyhoff said he would begin work on the performance-based work next month. Long-term problems, such as spiraling pension expenses and the money losing golf course and Performing Arts Center must also be addressed.

Mayor Tim Flynn said he was going to mention some of Perello’s items in his presentation. Most of the Council said it was the best budget they had ever seen, or words to that effect. But Councilman MacDonald’s vote said otherwise. Carmen Ramirez accepted the budget and is confident that City Mgr. Nyhoff will do a good job of it,  but is concerned about the impact on public safety and loss of jobs.

Public safety is the biggest issue in question. Oxnard is spending 68% of its general fund on that (actually MUCH more with Measure O and “Carman Override” funding. Mayor Flynn recognizes our crime problem, laments that an estimated 2000 gang members are holding the city hostage, causing much things to happen, forcing the city to devote inordinate resources to this. he wants far more focus on dealing with gang activity, including dedicating our two SWAT Teams to this, increasing gang injunctions, engaging more volunteers and winning more public cooperation/assistance..

Since the Perello initiative is fiscally-oriented it did not address service metrics, which would also need to be included in a well rounded performance measurement.  But it’s a start.

There are still questions on how some windfall receipts will be treated, such as the $6mm in “downtown” funds and $4mm from another source.

 

This is what passed- Document: Operating Budget 2015-16 (pdf 1.62 MB)
See the agenda, video and minuets up above for other meeting outcomes.
Members of the public were far less numerous than at previous budget discussions, but still had things to say, many duplicating past meetings. Steve Huber reiterated the need for a Controller. Julie Miller said she’s tired of hearing lectures from City Council, that Measure O was voted in but has not been properly used, why hire still another Assistant City Manager, while “laying off” (SIC) police and cutting off fire dept. overtime and reducing animal control officers, why are all land districts not on budget and why isn’t info on them more readily available? Larry Stein reiterated  his call for lower cost vehicles and 2 man crews for most emergency medical responses. Concerns were expressed about public safety jeopardized, service levels slipping and programs for at-risk youth cut.

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George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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