VENTURA — City staff members refer to it simply as "the Money," an $8.6-million pot of cash first set aside in the late 1980s to build a convention center at the county fairgrounds.
Since then, the loot in limbo has been considered for everything from building a minor league ballpark to erecting an aquarium at Ventura Harbor.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars in interest the money has accrued has been siphoned off, plugging what would otherwise have been deep cuts in the city's operating budget in recent years.
The death knell is now ringing for that City Council policy, first approved in 1992, after Mayor Jim Friedman called for its demise during a midyear workshop on the city's $105.2-million operating budget Monday night.
Originally discovered by City Manager Donna Landeros at the beginning of the fiscal 1996-97 budgeting process, the siphoning policy makes no sense, Friedman said.
"For that money to be siphoned off to balance the budget is just so nonproductive," Friedman said in an interview. "I am looking to do something with that money other than have it sit there and make it convenient for city staff to balance the budget using those interest earnings."
Of course, eliminating what has become a significant revenue source will mean tough decisions for the council, which will have to find some place to scale back city spending by an equivalent amount.
The issue may come back to the council on Feb. 23 during a scheduled public workshop on the city budget.
Friedman also called on city budget staff to explore whether interest income is being siphoned from traffic mitigation fee accounts, which is money collected from commercial developers to offset traffic impacts.
Councilman Jack Tingstrom said interest from a $4.1-million account set aside by the council to build a community swimming pool is also being used to support the general fund.
Citing the pool fund and convention-center fund, Tingstrom said Monday: "I'm guessing, Mr. Mayor, that those funds would be major by now."
Council newcomer Sandy Smith said he supports Friedman's call for an end to the policy.
"It's time we started using that money where it can make us some money in the long run," Smith said.