City government affects people’s lives every hour of every day — whenever you drive on a street, turn on the faucet or shop in a store. The following facts are the foundation on which the Ventura City Council sets policies and makes financial decisions that impact our residents’ quality of life.
Ventura has 677 city employees in nine departments and an annual total budget of $280 million.
Ventura is the oldest city in the county. The San Buenaventura Mission is currently celebrating its 225th anniversary. But with age comes expensive challenges. Our first streets were built in the 1800s and there have been ongoing maintenance issues ever since. Our very old, broken underground sewer and water lines are currently being replaced at a cost of $5 million and $9 million, respectively.
We’re fortunate to be bordered by the beauty of a coastline, hills and two rivers. But the interface between nature and urbanization causes continual costly struggles with sand, flooding, storm runoff and debris.
Ventura is a full-service city. That means we operate and maintain local water and sewer services, police and fire departments, and parks, in addition to maintaining streets and issuing building permits and many other services. Some other city governments in Ventura County are not full-service cities. For instance, newer cities such as Thousand Oaks and Camarillo have separate fire districts and park districts, not paid for or operated by the city, but supported by separate property taxes.
Our city government gets approximately 16 percent of the property tax revenue and 14 percent of the sales tax revenue collected locally. So for every $7 of sales tax you pay in Ventura, our city government keeps less than a dollar — the other $6 goes to the state, then to the county and the school district.
Nearly one-third of our city budget of $280 million goes to pay for our water, wastewater and golf enterprises. The fees that residents pay for these services go into separate enterprise funds that cannot be used for general fund expenditures. For instance, according to state law, what you pay on your water bill cannot be spent on hiring police. Water fees can only be spent on water-related projects. The parks fund, paid for with developer fees, can only be spent on parks. The city’s portion of the state and federal gas tax can only be spent on transportation-related projects.
Ventura’s $93 million general fund is the backbone of the city’s budget that pays for vital services, with more than half directly devoted to Public Safety:
$31 million – police
$19 million – fire
$15 million – public works
$10 million – general government
$7 million – community services
$3 million – community development
$5 million – capital improvement
$3 million – contract obligations
Another segment of city government is our Downtown Redevelopment Agency. Blighted districts may be designated as redevelopment areas. Within those set boundaries, more property tax income is channeled to the city (60 percent vs. 16 percent) rather than the state. The money collected can only be spent on projects within the Downtown RDA boundary.
Over the past three years, we’ve tightened our belt, contracting out street sweeping and more of our park and landscape maintenance to save money. We’ve cut energy use by 25 percent, switched to vehicles that get better gas mileage and reduced overhead. Although our population has increased by 16 percent since 1990, we actually have fewer employees now than we had then.
With sales tax down 10 percent this year because of a slumping economy and property taxes flattening because of falling home prices, we face about a $4 million shortfall in our General Fund budget next year, with a potential for further reductions in 2009/10.
This means that difficult choices will need to be made, especially because we remain committed to a balanced budget with no deficit spending. We will use this economic situation as an opportunity to carefully examine all of the city’s expenditures and take proactive cost-reduction steps to ensure financial sustainability.
Through a budgeting for outcomes process, we are attempting to identify those activities that matter most to our residents. We’re looking at all departments with an eye toward restructuring or eliminating certain programs while retaining our level of essential services. Part of the equation of maintaining a balanced budget will be to continue to identify new sources of revenue to ensure that our city remains clean, green, safe and beautiful.
The City Council will be addressing these issues as we finalize our budget over the next few months. Council members and staff are available to meet with community groups to discuss our city’s current and future budget priorities. We welcome suggestions from our residents and can be reached at Council@ci.ventura.ca.us.
Christy Weir is the mayor of the City of Ventura