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Oxnard Citizens' Panel on Finances Returns Without Suggestions

February 08, 1990|CAROL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stressing the need for a thorough investigation of Oxnard's budget practices, a citizens finance committee told the City Council this week it could make no formal recommendations for solving the current financial crisis.

The Ad Hoc Citizens Financial Advisory Committee was created by the City Council in September to study ways to generate revenue, including a special utility tax, and to balance the budget.

But four months later, the 27 committee members said they could not make any suggestions without information from a management audit that is to be completed in April.

"I think for all intents and purposes, the committee is done," Committee Chairman Ralph Schumacher said.

Instead, the final report includes five interim reports done by subcommittees throughout the fall. None of the recommendations included in those subcommittee reports was voted on or forwarded as a final recommendation.

"The Ad Hoc Citizen Advisory Committee's investigation has not been finished; therefore, our task is still incomplete," the committee report said. "For this reason the committee feels it would be imprudent to present a recommendation to you at this time."

Earlier this fall, the committee pushed for a thorough management audit, the first phase of which will include a review of revenue and expense projections for the next five years. It should be completed by the end of this month. The second phase will look at job duties and communication between city employees.

The City Council voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to hire Cresap Management Consultants for the first phase of the audit.

Mayor Nao Takasugi and Councilman Manuel Lopez opposed awarding the contract to Cresap on the basis that the company's bid for both phases of the project--about $250,000--was almost twice as much as the next lowest bid.

Despite the lack of formal recommendations, the finance committee did agree on some basic issues, including Oxnard's "very possible need for additional revenues," Schumacher said.

However, the 27 committee members--including present and former City Council members, finance experts and interested citizens--were split on how to produce those additional revenues, Schumacher said.

The committee said Oxnard may need to reorganize its staff. The committee agreed that police and fire protection were the services most important to city residents and that the public must be made aware of how its money is being used, Schumacher said.

When people were appointed to the committee, they believed they could come up with a unified recommendation in four months, Schumacher said.

They intended to make recommendations based on three six-year budget scenarios prepared by Oxnard staff.

But the committee never used those documents, losing faith in the estimates made by city staff as more mistakes in the budget came to light, Schumacher said.

The City Council reduced department budgets and eliminated more than 16 city positions to slash the budget by $1 million after discovering that estimates of revenues for the 1988-89 fiscal year were $2 million too high. At the same time, it was disclosed that the city had exceeded its 1988-89 budget by $850,000.

Oxnard announced a surprise refund of $1.4 million from the state. And a week later, the council voted to oust its city manager.

"We couldn't just take the information in the book just like that and be a rubber stamp for it," Schumacher said. "It wasn't a rubber stamp committee."

Instead, the committee embarked on its own long and arduous fact-finding mission, personally questioning 11 department heads, Schumacher said.

"It was a lot more difficult as we went along," Schumacher said.

Recommendations found in the interim reports include developing a citizens group to funnel information between the City Council and the public, creating street lighting assessment districts and licensing the operation of boat facilities in city waters.

The committee has no intention of meeting again, Schumacher said. However, it may do so at the City Council's request after the management audit is completed.

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