Santa Paula: Measure T Oversight Committee

By Sheryl Hamlin

meature_t_logoThe November 8, 2016 ballot will contain a 1% sales tax for the City of Santa Paula, called Measure T. The measure includes an oversight commission as follows:

A five member citizen commission comprised of members appointed by the Council must annually review and audit expenditures of revenues derived from the Santa Paula Local Transactions and Use Tax. The results must be included in the City’s annual audit and reviewed by the City Council at a publicly noticed meeting.

As the last item on the September 19, 2016 Santa Paula Council Meeting, item 12 C was a discussion of the Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure T. The discussion was thoughtful and is worth watching to see each council member’s preferences. The discussion is near the end of the video.

City Attorney Cotti had provided two templates for the council to review in order to provide examples of other oversight committees, one from the City of Oxnard and one from the Santa Paula Unified School Board Measure P School Bond.

The SPUSD committee calls for a seven (7) member committee, while the committee in Oxnard has nine (9) members. SPUSD has an application form which Mr. Cotti provided. The Oxnard committee meets only two times a year, while SPUSD meets at regularly scheduled Intervals. Note that Ventura, a wealthy city with a General Fund of about $94 million, has a 1/2% tax on its ballot with an oversight committee included but has not finalized the committee.

Mr. Cotti explained that Measure T will bring in approximately $2 million to Santa Paula, but there is no correct way to structure the committee; however, it should have a methodology for creation, bylaws, roles, eligibility, length of terms and schedule of meetings.

It was clear from the discussion that Mayor Hernandez favors an after the fact commission which simply reviews the year’s spending annually and gives a report if monies have been spent wisely. Council Member Procter said he wants to give the commission bona fide responsibilities. Vice Mayor Crosswhite said what is the harm in running the budget items by the Oversight Commission?

There was a discussion about the categories which each person represented, which are essentially the skills or background which might be helpful to the commission, such as accounting, finance, public works projects, public safety, neighborhood watch, age category like senior or youth.

The question about the involvement during the year or during the budget process provided the most discussion. What is the process of analyzing the wish list, asked Council Member Procter, and who mediates requests?

Mr. Cotti reminded the council that Measure T is a General Tax and as such the “other” category could and will come into consideration.

Council Member Gherardi said the Commission should represent the diversity of the committee and Vice Mayor Crosswhite said it must be a Brown Act Committee.

Mayor Hernandez said that if the measure passes, there would not be monies to process until the 2017/2018 budget.

The Council will revisit the discussion.

Another Example

In 2011 Palm Springs passes a 1% sales tax increase Measure J with an Oversight Commission with nine members who meet monthly. Each committee member has a subject matter interest area. Citizens send requests to the Oversight Commission for potential inclusion in the Measure J budget. From the website:

The Measure J Plan for the City is compiled from Public and Departmental Requests at the same time as the Departmental Budget. The Measure J Committee reviews capital projects funded by the Measure J 1% Sales Tax. These recommendations are then made available to the City Council for review and revision and approval.

In the city’s budget, there are separate line items for General Fund items and Measure J items against which charges are made, which improves the accounting. There is a chart showing how the Measure J funds were distributed across the departments.

The Commission meets monthly and minutes are posted on the website. During the course of the year, new requests may come before the council and there are often times when there is a discussion about funding something through Measure J or through the regular budget, so there is regular communication between the Commission and the Council.

Segregating the funds in the budget is essential for auditing. It requires some preparation by the staff, but over the course of a 20 year tax, this segregation will provide the transparency required to audit the funds.

For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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