June 18, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai City Council held a special workshop last week for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year budget. Council is expected to adopt the budget, as well as a modified city fee schedule, during the June 25 meeting.
“What we’re doing with these budget workshops is really gathering information and hearing from the City Council about their various budget priorities,” said city manager Rob Clark. “This isn’t the time and place where we’ll actually make final decisions on the budget. That will be when we adopt the budget on the 25th. But today, at the budget hearing, and as part of the regular Council meeting, it will be really important to hear what things are out there that we need to address when we do adopt the budget.”
Historic Preservation Commission Chair Jolene Lloyd was the first speaker to address Council regarding the budget.
“Our funding request is actually pretty simple,” said Lloyd. “The first item would be $1,960 for training, for conferences and workshops, and field trips for the HPC.”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp inquired as to why Historic Landmark properties do not have to pay a fee for the plaque that goes along with the designation. Lloyd explained the Commission felt that was onerous to the property owners and could potentially be a deterrent to obtaining landmark status. Mayor Paul Blatz advised city staff to reinstate the fee for those properties that get a state tax break under the Mills Act.
Council then examined a spreadsheet created by city finance director Susie Mears that analyzes the cost recovery of the Ojai Recreation Department (ORD). According to the document, adult softball and youth soccer programs both operate at a loss. The ORD as a whole made a profit of about $20,000 for the last fiscal year — before factoring in administrative costs. Along with the recession, a non-resident program fee was scrutinized for possibly decreasing valley-wide participation in the ORD’s programs.
“When you’re subsidizing the Recreation Department, you’re taking money out of the general fund, and when you take money out of the general fund, there’s less money for other things like paving the roads,” observed Clapp. “The citizens of Ojai are the taxpayers who are subsidizing this. I think the idea of an outside-of-the-city fee is that that is participants’ contribution to the Recreation Department to help subsidize that program that they would already be doing if they were residents of the city, so I think it’s appropriate to have that fee.”
Councilwoman Carol Smith pointed out that perhaps the Ventura County government should assist the city of Ojai with funding programs that are available to residents of unincorporated areas in the valley.
“I think we need the participation from non-residents to make the individual programs viable,” offered Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel.
The newest member of the City Council, Severo Lara, is a former Parks and Recreation Commissioner and offered his firsthand insight into the ORD.
“I know this is an ongoing dialogue about how do we generate more participation, how do we generate more income,” said Lara. “It was difficult to analyze because of the recession. And second of all, that recession really impacted our department morale, and it created some friction among competitors for recreation. I think the current Commission is finding creative ways to generate more participation.”
“As far as the recreation programs go, we’ve had a lot of changes. We’ve had changes in staff and changes in the way we do business,” summarized Strobel. “I think I’d like to see it given a little more time to see how it’s going to level out.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.