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Oxnard Sees Its Shortfall Disappearing : Budget: City officials predict resolution of economic problems soon, though forecast for

October 12, 1994|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oxnard will bridge its chronic budget shortfall by next year, according to a rosy six-year economic prognosis unveiled Tuesday by city officials.

The layoffs of 38 city workers in the past year, combined with a slight state and federal economic upturn, have put Oxnard in a better-than-expected position, said Oxnard management analyst Dennis Scala.

But the forecast, based on statewide reports by the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy and the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, concluded that Oxnard will continue to experience weaker economic growth than other parts of the country.

"We have resolved potential shortfalls by deliberate and painful efforts to reduce our appropriations and re-engineer the way we do business, rather than from a substantial increase in our revenue base," Scala said in a report to the Oxnard City Council.

Oxnard is expected to spend $61.4 million in the 1995-96 budget year, up from $60.2 million this year. Since the city should take in about $61.3 million, balancing the budget will require only minor cuts, Scala said.

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Councilman Tom Holden said he was impressed by the forecast.

"While most other cities are cutting services to balance their budgets, we have found another way to do things," Holden said. "That's not to minimize the lost positions, but our ability to provide services is our top priority."

Since 1990, Oxnard has pared its work force from 1,100 to 913, mostly by not replacing departing employees.

Among the conclusions of the forecast are that:

* New commercial developments such as the Shopping at the Rose complex and the Oxnard Factory Outlet Mall have boosted the city's sales tax revenues, but not enough to offset the money lost during the recession.

* The jobs being created in Oxnard, like those in the rest of the state, are mostly low-paying service jobs that cannot replace the higher-paying, defense-related jobs that have been lost.

* State budgetary problems could result in further reduced revenue for Oxnard.

* The possible closure or downsizing of one or more of Ventura County's military bases would have a devastating impact on Oxnard's economy.

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Although council members said they were pleased by the positive forecast, they asked city staff members to base spending proposals on a pessimistic prognosis--one that does not predict economic recovery until the year 2000.

Councilman Mike Plisky said Oxnard should always prepare for the worst. That way, the city will not have to slash jobs and programs at the last minute as council members have in recent years, he said.

"I think there are too many unknowns out there at this point, especially with the state," Plisky said. The state has cut local funding in recent years to balance its budget.

The report also listed some potential impacts, but called them unlikely. They were:

* The state again cuts funding to cities.

* The City Council opts to add police officers by matching funds available through the federal Crime Bill.

* Council members increase funding for $50 million worth of badly needed improvements to city streets, bridges and highway intersections.

If all those scenarios occurred, the city could face a $2-million deficit, Scala said.

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