Oxnard: status quo budget approved 4-3; residents discuss power plant proposal

 

budgetBy George Miller

After months of debate and criticism, the Oxnard City Council on Tuesday approved a budget very similar to last year’s. The vote was 4-3. with Council members Perello, Padilla and Housing Commissioner Vega dissenting.  Even some voting for it conceded its shortcomings, but were worried about the public and bond raters’ concerns for a city that couldn’t pass a budget. According to city statutes, the proposed budget would become official anyway by default when the old one expires on June 30. Councilman MacDonald again remarked that this is year two of a two year budget.

Name Date Duration Agenda Minutes Video
City Council Meeting June 24, 2014 03h 44m Agenda Minutes Video

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Finance Director James Cameron only presented the General Fund budget of $113 million, omitting discussion of the much larger and troubled public works budget, including massive, underfunded infrastructure work, much of it severely deferred maintenance and needed actions to deal with long term water supply issues. In fairness, the latter have been endlessly discussed at past meetings, without resolution. Councilman Perello lamented major spending “surprises” that have come up and said that whistleblowers are exposing even more and that “management knew” this.

It makes it difficult that the budget is presented with no detail or supporting schedules, making it impossible to even know what projects and amounts are  included it it. This has been raised over and over again and, to date, has not been addressed.

Resident Larry Stein pointed out that much of the $6.7 million in accumulated deficits shown during the budget presentation shows as a negative cash balance, which should be impossible. Staff pointed out that funds were taken out of the General Fund to meet enterprise fund deficits, especially for the golf course and Performing Arts and Convention Center (PACC). Stein later told Citizensjournal.us that he believed such commingling of enterprise and general funds is unlawful and is thinking about what should be done about this.

Stein also attacked the treatment of “headcount” (number of employees), citing discrepancies in numbers and claiming that the large numbers of unfilled positions provide a de facto slush fund to help accommodate and mask overruns elsewhere in the budget. Another resident asserted that budgets should be managed and tracked to a line item or at least department level to provide greater fiscal discipline. Cameron mentioned 1277 people with 60 unfilled. Police vacancies are very hard to fill since the recruiting/training cycle spans 18 months, with high attrition.

Residents also reiterated concerns about lack of priority-based budgeting, failure to address major capital project needs, lack of supporting detail in budgets, lack of transparency of data, probable excessive accumulation of debt when these needs finally are addressed. (read previous articles linked below).

Council members lamented lack of real priority-based budgeting. Mayor Flynn lauded an excellent strategic summit which produced priorities, but conceded that it was too “broad brush” and did not translate to specific budget items much.

City Manager Greg Nyhoff intends to address an enterprise fund debt plan by July-end. There seemed to be consensus and at the previous budget study sessions that there will some sort of mid-course correction budget modifications.

Councilwoman Padilla is “uncomfortable with the budget, wants enterprise fund deficit resolution, a higher priority on homeless issues, staffing needs and spending prioritization.

Councilman MacDonald says budget is “not perfect,” shouldn’t be held up longer for that, default approval would send “the wrong message,” thinks they are on the “right track,” prepared to move ahead with this budget, can change later- “not set in stone.”  He also wants a Marine Safety Officer.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ramirez wants to move ahead with this budget, which can be later changed, worried about sending “wrong message” by not approving, wants to give Nyhoff opportunity to develop a more comprehensive “game plan” which will take a lot more time.

Councilman Perello: “There’s a lot riding on you, Mr. Nyhoff” cannot approve this budget, as far as being perceived not to be making a decision- “NO” is a decision. Concerned about “robbing Peter to pay Paul and Peter will show up to be paid.” Trying to improve our bond rating, but “waiting for the other shoe to drop” (large, unforeseen, unbudgeted needs).

Mayor Flynn lauded the Material Recycling takeover as “Herculean,” a huge success, with $2.6 million in annual savings projected and on target.

Some previous CJ articles on Oxnard budget:

https://citizensjournal.us/oxnard-budget-still-not-approved-try-again-june-24-street-repair-plan-advanced/

https://citizensjournal.us/oxnard-gang-injunctions-re-emphasized-budget-nearly-ready-recycling-facility-takeover-doing-well/

https://citizensjournal.us/oxnard-budgeting-process-grinds-closer-to-approval/

https://citizensjournal.us/oxnard-we-have-to-pass-the-budget-so-that-you-can-find-out-whats-in-it/

Last year:

Oxnard $364 MM 2013-14 and $426 MM 2014-15 Budgets Approved.

Gasfiredelectric

Modern gas-fired plants have a smaller footprint (this is typical)

The 2030 general plan calls for phasing out power plants, but policies and ordinances weren’t changed to reflect that. Oxnard has two power plants, rated at over 2000 megawatts, but used only intermittently. The oldest one was built in the 1950’s, upgraded, but not state of the art in efficiency, environmentalism or aesthetics. NRG (current plants operator) , City and residents all agree on making some further improvements, but shutting them down by 2020-end.  NRG wants to build a new 290 megawatt state of the art, low footprint, gas-powered plant on the Mandalay plant site, north of 5th Street, further inland from the existing one which will be shut down.

After a lively debate at the 6/17 Council meeting, it was agreed to take it up again at the 7/1 meeting, to discuss whether a moratorium on new plants should be passed. NRG will provide more information and ideas for consideration. In the meantime, residents weighed in on it at this week’s meeting. Most residents were opposed to the project, but not all facts, pros and cons, have been brought out and evaluated. Some residents said they don’t want any power plants due to environmental, land use and aesthetics considerations. One out of town activist even theorized that Oxnard power plants are “racist” because such structures tend to be more prevalent in Latino communities than “white” ones.  The site is in a predominantly “Anglo” neighborhood. Another beach resident discounted the economic benefits, claiming that the jobs would still be in the county if done in other nearby cities. Still others cited the economic benefits, pointed out that the most offensive, old plants are already slated for shutdown at 2020 end, there were considerable economic benefits, proposal meets all environmental regulations, and that the site could also be used for a public beach.

Read our last week’s article on this:

Oxnard: Debates coastal power plant proposal

Oxnard:  Debates coastal power plant proposal

NRG, the largest independent electric power generation company in the nation and owner/operator of the Mandalay and Ormond Beach power plants, wants to build another one, on the existing Mandalay site and eventually tear down the existing ones. At this point, the city and operator both agree that the old plants are […]

OxnardPerArtsTheatreAlso:

Council voted to spend $65K to re-carpet theater at the Performing Arts Center.

Councilman Perello was alarmed by very poor security observed on his recent walking tour of Campus Park facility. But he remarked that “bathrooms are clean.”

Resident (and Mayoral candidate) Larry Stein noted that “in the highly unlikely event that Councilman MacDonald wins election as Mayor,” an expensive special election ($15,000-$175,00 would be required and suggested a scheme that could take care of it all on the November ballot. It was pointed out that a special election is not legally required (appointment could suffice).

Information Consent agenda items 1-6, minus 5, were unanimously approved.

Mayor Pro-tem Ramirez cautioned that Hueneme Beach erosion (caused by lack of dredging of Channel Islands Harbor entrance) could also affect Ormond Beach and that it may need to be addressed.

Recruitment of City Attorney proceeding (Interim Atty. Fisher is a candidate).

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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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