Santa Paula: A New Idea from Measure T

 By Sheryl Hamlin

The five member citizen oversight commission for Santa Paula’s Measure T Sales Tax (2016) convened on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 with a goal of establishing allocation recommendations for the new sales tax revenue, now estimated at about $2 million.

Public Comments

Five students spoke in public comments: Mireille Vargas, Mason Ramos Rodriquez, Jackie Lopez, Pedro Robles and Maria Elena Terrazas. Each recommended 30% of the Measure T funds for youth programs, including issues of crime prevention, athletic clubs, pools, activities specific to the 10 to 12 year old range, LGBT sensitivity, crime prevention and delinquency, immigration and sexual identity.

Dr. Gabino Aguirre, former mayor of Santa Paula, supported all of the students’ ideas adding that the Latino Town Hall was also concerned with these areas. He said that Santa Paula continues to be underserved with respect to county services. Santa Paula is number one ranked in asthma, diabetes, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse and number two in poverty after Port Hueneme. He said the community is resilient, but on life support. He described the Youth Empowerment Services which provides scholarships and showed a printed copy of the plan. He stressed that a project cannot be funded for one year and then cut the next. He cited the award winning City Corps in Oxnard as a successful model.

Committee Recommendation to Council

City Attorney Cotti described the lengthy Saturday budget meeting, as reported here. Mike Sedell, consultant, reminded the panel of the declining General Fund which now only has about two weeks of cash. The budget has been recast without the Santa Paula Fire Department (SPFD) dropping the deficit as reported on Saturday of $2.2 million to $750,000. He said that this would only be an interim budget. The new City Manager comes on Monday, June 26th and will be at the budget meeting where the interim budget should be adopted.

Commissioner Flores asked if the SPFD is out of the budget at this point, to which Mr. Sedell explained that there is a four month transition fund budget for fire. So, the question still remains, reprised Flores, if the T Commision should include a recommendation for the SPFD. At first Mr. Sedell said ‘no’, then later in the course of the three hour plus meeting changed his recommendation to ‘yes’.

Mr. Flores moved that the committee recommend all funds be used for the four areas described in the ballot measure: police, fire, roads and youth. There was no second. Mr. Cotti said this could be an overarching principle guiding the committee.

Revisit Previous Recommendations

The chair, Kristin Majda, asked the committee about their previous recommendations which were described in this report.

She then presented her recommendations. Agreeing with Commission Sobel, who had suggested an assistant to the City Manager with grant writing experience, she said that this position could pay for itself with one grant and, in fact, she said the city should have metrics to see if monies are successfully spent. She would give enough to the SPPD to fill the cuts and raise salaries and to Community Services to fill the cuts for the current year as well as for programs cut in previous years. She proposed a new concept called a ‘Needs Assessment Survey (NAS)’ for the youth services, in which prior to spending any funds, a comprehensive survey of the needs of the community would be determined in a collaborative way. Unfortunately there was no dollar amount for the NAS, so it was hard for the commissioners to internalize this topic, let alone budget for it. Holding monies aside for reserves , she would allocate nothing for roads because there are alternate sources of funding for the roads, based on John Ilasin’s previous report which was describe here under Infrastructure.

Commissioner Chacon said she would allocate 50% to police based on their current prorata share of the budget. The department is decimated, she said, and citizens have a right to be safe and officers have the right to a safe environment, noting the conditions of the police quarters. She said some should be saved for fire because the situation is still fluid. As to Community Services, she said there must not be duplicate services and agreed with the Needs Assessment concept, but hopefully not “with a $50,000 consultant”. And, she said she would give Publc Works a jump start on the roads program with 10% of the Measure T funds. She reminded the commission about the lost Building & Safety inspector and suggested this be considered.

Deliberations

Restating the allocations, three of the five commissioners suggested 50% for the police and 20% to the fire with the caveat that this be reviewed once the final fire decision and its financial implications are understood.

Commissioner Chacon brought up an important point regarding the viability of Kmart asking Director Easley what percentage of the sales tax does Kmart provide. Director Easley did not have that information, although she did reiterate during the course of the evening that Measure T funds would be kept in a separately designated Fund 104 for auditing purposes.

Mike LaPlant from SPFD said that the four fire fighters currently funded by SAFER should be funded. John Ilasin, interim Public Works Manager, said that any funds would help because he has estimated a need of $2.8 million for the 99 streets whose ratings fail below acceptable.

Chief McLean, SPPD, said that grants should not be used for people, but as a policy only for equipment.

Ed Mount, Community Services Director, said he envisions the Community Services department as the center of youth involvement and said that several years ago there was a ‘Five Year Youth Action Plan” created, which he would revisit. Chair Majda pointed out that Community Services is not all for youth.

The Allocation

The final allocation agreed was 50% Police, 20% Fire, 20% Youth (caveat that a Needs Assessment Survey is done first), 5% to current Community Services programs and 5% roads. There was also the assumption the the fire monies would be subject to review based on the final outcome of the annexation.

Reporting Format

Chair Majda had prepared a report format which due to Brown Act restrictions, she could not distribute prior to the meeting, so the commissioners had not been able to study the report. Attorney Cotti, noting time constraints, said that someone must be designated to present the recommendations to the council in person. Chair Majda will present. Discussion ensued about the points she should cover. Commissioner Sobel and Chair Majda will form a subcommittee to create a report for future use.

Next Meeting

The commission will hold another meeting in several weeks based on staff availability and then again in December when there should be more budget information and the final county fire decision. The meeting was adjourned after 10:00 pm, over three hours after convening.

The meeting was taped. Check back for a link to the audio.

For more information about the author visit Sheryl Hamlin dot com.


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