Ventura City Council: State of the City presentation

By George Miller

The presentation was about how good Ventura is and how the City government wants to raise taxes to keep it that way

Last night’s main act at the (2-29-16) Council meeting was Ventura Mayor Erik Narasenko’s first “State of the City” address, entitled “Invest in Ventura, Now and For a Strong Tomorrow.” This talk is analogous to a presidential state of the union, where last years’s accomplishments are reviewed and future plans and vision are presented. It was elegantly done, with attractive graphics and well-presented. It lavished praise upon Ventura’s rich natural and man-made resources- “the fantastic, exquisite beauty”- the ocean, the harbor, the beaches, the mountains, city programs and infrastructure, gateway to the Channel Islands, the iconic 1872 wooden pier, the 9th of 21 Spanish Missions built along the California Coast. He also celebrated Ventura’s outdoor lifestyle, its fine and taxpaying retail areas.

VenturaStateofCity2016

NasarenkoErik

Mayor Erik Nasarenko

This is how it was advertised in advance:

The address, titled “Invest in Ventura, Now and For a Strong Tomorrow,” will focus on themes related to investing in our community and a proposed sales tax measure. “The City of Ventura responded early and decisively to the economic downtown by implementing cost-saving measures, eliminating and reducing programs, and deferring much needed maintenance. Protecting our most essential city services like infrastructure, crime prevention and programs for seniors and youth with a stable funding source that is guaranteed to be spent locally will ensure a strong tomorrow for Ventura,” said Mayor Nasarenko (photo on right).

 

The City has spent millions restoring and maintaining the very beautiful, iconic, spacious, neoclassical City Hall, inherited from the County when they moved to their sprawling campus on Victoria Ave. years ago. It has spent millions on the coastline, beaches, surfing area and pier, near the County Fairgrounds, all of which are excellent tourist magnets. He pointed out how the botanical gardens are another outdoor attraction directly adjacent to downtown, that parks have been improved and more enhancements are planned.

But the Mayor also presented major challenges of what isn’t being done and what the he thought should be done. However, the presentation was really mainly a pitch to raise taxes to pay for a very ambitious program to grow government and attempt to catch up on a neglected city infrastructure. The underlying theme was that the government should do more, that the City’s infrastructure is old and tired, underfunded and needs major revival– and for that it needs much more money than the taxation system is now producing. He talked about how successful and growing retail and other businesses are and how homes are valuable, but somehow that revenue from both of these isn’t even keeping pace with inflation. In fact, tax revenues, except for the disastrous Great Recession dip, have had only a slight uptrend.

The City is celebrating its 150th birthday, but it existed way before that as a Mission town and even before that, under the previous natives. So, what better way to celebrate such an anniversary than by raising taxes? The City claims that voters want the sales tax increased. The current rate is 7.5%, one of the lowest around.

Narasenko stated the bizarre case that the rate should be increased because it had the lowest sales tax of any “Mission city.” While residents watching were scratching their heads trying to figure out what he meant, he showed us the mission map, explaining that these are some of the oldest cities in the state, therefore they have very old infrastructures, therefore they need the most money to fix them. It would seem like new cities would have a far harder time having to develop all new infrastructure. If Ventura’s infrastructure needs huge investment, it’s more likely because it has been neglected.

Streets are deteriorated too, he pointed out, now down, on the “Pavement Index” scale where 100 is very good roads, from 78 to 70 and headed for 60-. Narasenko says $10-15 million is needed annually for streets and only a fraction of that is now available.  There is also growing crime  and over 1000 known gang members, in 10 gangs, vs. only 7 cops in the gang unit, so public safety is an issue.  The city’s water and wastewater infrastructure have major deferred maintenance and some buildout requirements.  The water system work will take until 2025, assuming permits are in hand by 2019, per Shawn Epstein, Water Dept Director. The city has some challenges with the lack of SoCal rain, since it gets its water locally.

Narasenko mentioned that the City has consistently balanced its budget, currently at $273 million for a city of 110,000 residents and about 600 employees. It has a fine credit rating because of fiscal soundness. The General Fund received most of its revenues from sales taxes (about $26.4 million) and property taxes ($30.7 million in 2015), plus other fees and grants. Hotel bed tax should generate some significant money, but he didn’t remark on this.

The Mayor lamented that the state and county take most of the haul and he wants a tax just for Ventura that can’t be taken away. Two previous attempts to increase the sales tax rate have been rejected by voters.

We didn’t hear any discussion about what shouldn’t be done tat now is or productivity improvements.

Looking at the shopping list presented at the meeting and the enormous funding shortfalls, we don’t see how the proposed sales tax increase alone would address it. Some of the capital projects are actually paid for via “enterprise funds,” which receive their money via utility rates for water and wastewater. So those have nothing to do with the sales tax, which goes into the general fund, which is chiefly consumed by public safety- police and fire.

It would seem like making the pie bigger might be better than taking more of the pie, but they thought of that, too. The Mayor referred to Councilman Mike Tracey’s efforts in retail district development, which would produce more property taxes, more sales tax revenue and more jobs. Same with the “Wellness District.” Ventura is blessed with not one big hospital but two, both nearing completion of major expansion. The Kaiser-Permanente HMO is also moving into town and there already quite a few clinics and specialty health care operations here, too. This really puts the city on the map and is an economic/professional dynamo, with high paying jobs- plus much better health care for Ventura and surrounding area residents. But of course, all of this needs expensive infrastructure too, so we’re hoping that adequate infrastructure/mitigation fees are being paid so that existing residents don’t get hit with the brunt of the cost burden.

It was providential, or maybe deliberate, that the 6 year capital plan was also presented later, to figure out what all this would cost and at least talk about how to pay for it. What we learned, is that planned spending is for 151 projects totalling $734 million, but they have found only $157 million of the needed funding to accomplish it. It includes 66 miles of roads, plus waterlines, and wastewater projects. There are also major shoreline improvements underway and planned. What was discussed was big and important enough to deserve an article of its own, for future publication in CitizensJournal.us. See capital plan presentation materials: Item 5 – Proposed 2016-2022 CIP Study Session

The City also reported on its “Sustainability” plan,which addresses efforts to aggressively promote environmentalism, reduce waste and costs. It is costly, but they also claim significant City of Ventura cost savings. They are moving toward making some resident and business actions mandatory, only appropriate for an ICLEI city.

 

New Planning Commissioner

Carl Morehouse (R), presents new Planning Commissioner Robert Corley with his appointment certificate at 2-29-16 Council Meeting. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

Carl Morehouse (R), presents new Planning Commissioner Robert Corley with his appointment certificate at 2-29-16 Council Meeting. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

Carl Morehouse chaired a committee to select a new Planning Commissioner. His group interviewed 12 candidates, made its recommendation and last night, new Commissioner Robert Corley was sworn in, after a unanimous confirmation of his nomination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting info:

Name    Date    Duration                   
City Council Meeting February 29, 2016 02h 41m Agenda Video MP3 MPEG4


George Miller is Publisher of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.

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