On paper, officials have promised a proposed sales tax increase will enhance city-funded services. But getting the issue off the page and set into motion has given cause for concern for some Oxnard residents.
They are maintaining that a weakened economy and a lack of transparency by local government are valid reasons to keep the issue off ballots come election time.
The Oxnard City Council will discuss the sales tax issue at its Tuesday meeting and potentially decide if raising it from 7.25 to 7.75 percent holds enough community support for a measure to pass through Oxnard voters in November. If it takes effect next year, Oxnard would become the first city in Ventura County to surpass the current countywide rate, a move officials in Port Hueneme have recently considered.
City officials are hoping extra revenue gained from the tax hike will improve existing municipal services like street repair, police enforcement and recreational activities, adding about $10 million to the city’s operating budget. But what specifically those monies would pay for has made some Oxnard residents doubtful.
“I’m primarily against the sales tax increase for the lack of transparency and disclosure,” said Larry Stein of Oxnard.
Stein and others have reason to believe that promises will be broken once extra tax revenue is obtained.
“The city hasn’t been a good steward for our tax money,” said Bill Terry of Oxnard. “The money will go into the general fund, and they’ll do anything they want with it.”
They opine that city funds have been mismanaged in the past on capital projects with low priority carried out during strapped financial times – work that commenced on the downtown movie theater, municipal golf course and talk of a baseball stadium.
“My feeling is if the city had not misdirected money to the golf courses and movie theaters, there would be money to enhance these services,” said Sandy Gonzalez, chairwoman of the Sea View neighborhood committee.
But those projects could be just what Oxnard needs to revitalize its own economic state, say those at the heart of the local commercial district. With gas prices well above $4 a gallon, people are opting out of making that car trip downtown. If they could be attracted by new shopping and recreational offerings, according to members of the Oxnard Property and Business Improvement District, a higher sales tax could be worth it, and in turn, contribute to service enhancement by the city.
“Our biggest problem is not having any retail,” said Vince Behrens, the business district chairman and owner of American Drive-In Cleaners.
“It’s a hard time for everybody, as a consumer. But ultimately, it depends on where that funding is going to go and where it’s going to improve the resources,” said Lorena Pintor, program director for the Oxnard Downtown Management District.
Stein took issue with that notion in a recent letter to the VC Reporter, stating that portions of the city’s general fund derived from sales tax revenue have also gone toward things like offsetting commercial debt.
“The forgiven debt does not get repaid by the developer, but is reduced by the sales tax generated by those entities,” he said.
Further at the heart of residents’ discontent is the stance that a city-conducted outreach program to gauge the popularity of a tax increase among voters was not thorough enough.
That survey, as part of an Oxnard campaign titled “We Hear You,” was dispatched by research firm Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin & Associates of Sacramento, and polled 400 residents with a 70 percent approval for a tax raise. The city’s population is nearly 500 times larger, hovering just less than 200,000 people.
But according to Christina Aerenlund, the city’s public information officer, the polled, all of them registered voters, made up a good sampling of Oxnard as a whole, considering twice that, she noted, is a nationwide target number used in widespread surveys.
As a precursor to the tax rate proposal, Aerenlund said since last year the city also sponsored 42 community informational meetings as a primer on the city’s financial workings; more information is also on the City of Oxnard’s Web site.
She explained the data compiled from the outreach campaign will be presented at the July 1 council meeting and will hopefully quell any notions of a disconnect or transparency issue between government and citizen.
“I understand that residents are concerned."