Santa Paula City Council Part Two: 2015/2016 Budget

By Sheryl Hamlin

In Part One covering the June 1, 2015 Santa Paula City Council meeting, three items were considered:  Street Repair, Delinquent Bills and Low-Cost Housing. In Part Two, the council discussion of the proposed 2015/2016 budget will be reviewed.

Recall that the special March 21, 2015 council session was devoted to citizen input and was in fact a Budget Town Hall. Mr. Mike Sedell, former Simi Valley City Manager facilitating the budget development, opened this portion of the council meeting noting “significant public input” from the Town Hall. He said that during the goals discussions, the “council has seen a dose of reality” with respect to restricted monies. He described Santa Paula as a “full service city” with the base of a “contract city” meaning that Santa Paula provides all services such as police, fire, planning, recreation and more with limited funds. Other small cities with limited funds usually contract for services. Unfortunately Santa Paula needs stability to continue to provide these services he said. Santa Paula has three options: 1) increase revenues, 2) cut back on services and/or 3) reorganize and gain economy of scale.

He presented a draft budget based on the pro rata cuts discussed previously.  Note that this document was not in the packet for the June 1, 2015 meeting included on the website. He summarized the projected fiscal year end 2014/2015 as follows:

excel_budget

Unfortunately, although the exercise does show a positive cash flow, there were no charts comparing the projected departmental budgets for FY 2014/2015 versus requested for FY 2015/2016. Such charts may have been in the council packet, but not available to the public. Mr. Sedell presented an Excel spreadsheet which he could modify showing the effect of various changes. This was actually too small to appreciate.

Four department heads approached the council to discuss their cuts.

Mr. Mount of Community Services discussed the cuts to maintenance of restrooms and grounds. Chief McClean explained how the cuts to overtime reduced his ability to put more officers on the streets. Janna Minsk noted that Planning Department cuts would or could slow down response times to projects. Assistant Fire Chief Lazenby explained that five firefighters were not funded and discussed the timing of the potential awarding of the SAFER Grant. He also noted that one fire fighter is still out on medical due to the Santa Clara Waste Water explosion on Mission Rock. It was not said if there was a reimbursement coming from this company or their insurance.

The council considered each cut with respect to services rendered. Council Member Gherardi objected vehemently to once a week restroom cleaning in city buildings. An idea for the Police Chief’s overtime was proposed by Council Member Gherardi, who suggested that the monies for the unfilled, budgeted positions could be used for the overtime because there was a lag of at least six months getting a new hire on board. She asked if this “cushion” could be used for overtime.

The backfill of the SAFER grant includes 5 positions for two and one half months from the beginning of the fiscal year on 7/1/2015 through mid-September 2015. How would this amount be funded, asked Mr. Sedell?

lazenby

Assistant Chief Lazenby

Assistant Chief Lazenby returned with a detailed PowerPoint presentation explaining the Fire Department’s organization using temporary and reserves to fill positions. The Reserve Program started in 2005 as a way to put temporary fire fighters into empty positions. The city provides the equipment and the reservist must commit to two 24-hour shifts per month minimum for which he is paid $50 per shift. This program has not yielded the numbers of reservists necessary to fill all positions. Since 2005, they have lost 100 reservists and the use of reservists has been declining as evidenced by this chart showing stipends paid to reservists.

stipiends_reservists

He said that 170 applied with 70 taking the test and only 5 remaining for the final interview. The department statistics showed that 70% of the new recruits leave during the first year with 80% hired by other agencies, 10% moving away and 10% because of lack of commitment or failure in the program. Reservists cost staff time to train and administer in addition to equipment costs. Currently there are five reservists working as “Temp Employees”.  Lazenby said that support staff such as investigation and hazmat (Hazardous materials) is a done on a fee-for-service, although they lacked staff for such.

reservists_temps

Council Member Gherardi indicated that a Fire Assessment District could be an alternative to using the county fire department, noting the city must have a permanent fix to relieve the General Fund. She also noted that East Area One will need a station. Council Member Hernandez questioned the concept of “cushion” funding for the fire department as proposed earlier. Council Member Crosswhite reminded the council that the Limoneira grant could not be used for fire. Council Member Tovias suggested the Fillmore model of using more reservists be adopted saying that an increased stipend would attract more reservist recruits. Council Member Tovias said it would be “three years” before monies would be coming to the city from East Area One.

Council Member Tovias had several important statistics from the department. He said that the Fire Department had 2700 calls annually and 90% of those were medical. He said that cities were looking at ways to optimize Emergency Response by sending out first a squad with an ambulance followed by engines later, if fire.

According to the California Medical Services Authority, EMS calls are handled as follows:

There is a statewide 9-1-1 system; most of the state has access to enhanced land line 9-1-1. 9-1-1 calls are answered by over 350 PSAPs. A state 9-1-1 office guides 9-1-1 system implementation which is funded via a telephone line surcharge. The California Highway Patrol answers all wireless 9-1-1 calls. The dramatic increase in the number of cellular 9-1-1 calls is taxing the resources of the CHP. The CHP is working closely with a variety of manufacturers of Mayday technology for the automatic reporting of crash information. The CHP dispatchers do not have EMD training although their geographic coverage area and population served is enormous.

In Ventura, EMS is handled as follows per the county EMS site:

The Ventura County EMS System annually handles approximately 45,000 emergency medical calls for service resulting in over 30,000 patient transports to local hospitals.

Counties have control of the telephone line surcharge. Counties such as San Francisco have raised their 911 surcharge fees, while others are adding ambulance fees. Ambulance fees vary across the state as this article in the Los Angeles Times describes. With 90% of the calls for medical, according to Council Member Tovias, there should be more analysis on what EMS services are actually costing the Fire Department and how they could be streamlined.

tovias

Council Member Tovias

Council Member Tovias also showed the new issue of Civic Alliance. The stats in this booklet cover everything in Ventura county from employment, real estate, libraries, crime, education and tourism. One statistic quoted by Council Member Tovias was the crime rate and indeed Santa Paula’s per capita rate is the highest as shown with 7.42 per 1,000. However, the booklet also says:

There are no cities in Ventura County that would be classified as “unsafe” in the grand scheme of things, but some are less safe than others. Ventura stands out as by far the county’s highest-crime city, primarily because of its high rate of property crimes. In 2014, Ventura had 35.58 reported serious property crimes per 1,000 residents. That was more than double the property crime rate of every other Ventura County city except Oxnard, and more than four times that of the safest city, Moorpark. Santa Paula had the highest rate of violent crime in 2014, at 7.42 reported serious violent crimes per 1,000 residents.

crime_rate

According to the booklet, Santa Paula is also near the bottom on school achievement scores. The correlation between crime and school achievement is logical. Council Member Gherardi suggested that the council attend the School Board this week and pursue Michelle Kohlbeck’s suggestion of sharing funds, perhaps in the recreation area or safety programs where the Fire Department gives a very successful program for all fourth graders. Mr. Fontes said that a request of $250,000 approximately has been sent to the school district for programs. Council Member Gherardi said that cross-funding has no precedent, but that they must consider such funds at this point in time. Mr. Cotti reminded the council that there is an on-going lawsuit with the Ventura County Professional Fire Fighters Association who is suing the city over the use of temporary employees. The hearing will be on June 26, 2015.

Mr. Sedell ended this session by restating the budget deficiencies: public services maintenance and SAFER Grant backfill. The council has yet to address these deficiencies. The council took a break and planned to return discussing the 45 item “wish list” that was created during the interviews.

Part Three: Wish List Budget

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Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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