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By Chris Frost
Tri County Sentry
Oxnard-- The conversation about the city's fiscal year 2021-2022 budget continues, Tuesday, June 8, with a large number of restorations to the Cultural and Community Services budget.
City Manager Alex Nguyen proposes that the city invest $5.6 million on its parks, medians, and trees, restore the maintenance cycle, increase the city's street funding to $14.6 million, and add $8.8 million, one time, to the general fund for its Capital Improvement Projects. This is a marked difference from prior years where revenue was low, and employee layoffs and reduced city services hurt the city.
"We're looking to restore the senior center hours in the Colonia neighborhood," he said. "We want to reopen Durley Park Youth Center, and we want to restore the full hours at the Colonia Basketball Gym and also restore hours at the Colonia Boxing Gym, but we are waiting for the health department clearance for our youth boxing program to start up again."
He also proposes restoring some of the city corps, approximately $260,000, and he's planning to add eight staff positions across all the cultural and community services.
"Including two from the library, and also add funding back for digital services as well as the library book budget," he said. "It's an increase from $9.8 million to $14.4 million in restorations for community services."
Nguyen plans to beef up the city's homeless programs, add one position for the homeless program, and funding to kick off the city's housing first program.
"We are also going to focus on redevelopment and neighborhood improvement with the housing department, as well as continuing with the Oxnard employee pipeline," Nguyen said. "Overall, it looks to be four new positions for the housing department, and that increases from $400,000 to $2.1 million.
He also proposes adding two deputy city attorneys, one administrative, legal secretary, one project manager, and a communications coordinator in the city manager's office, and he's planning to add a senior financial analyst and an accounting tech labor position.
"In billing and licensing, we're going to add one customer service representative, and we'll also be conducting business license inspections," he said. "We're also going to fund some security upgrades on that department. In Community Development, we're restoring a total of six people, and we're also going to add funding for professional contracts, and we will be implementing Measure F, the permit-simplicity self-certification program."
He proposes adding two human resources technicians and one human resources analyst, which is a reclassification. Nguyen also plans on investment in worker's comp and public liability efforts.
"In IT (Information Technology), we are definitely adding a cybersecurity officer," he said. That's a position that doesn't exist right now and we are going to focus on that in this upcoming year. We are also adding six staff people there to support many of the needs across the city and also beef up our IT security protocols. We need to make an investment of nearly $1 million in terms of replacement hardware, as well as updating our software."
In all, the city anticipates slightly over $200 million in revenue and slightly less in expenses.
"You can see it really hasn't changed much over the years, but as we make restorations, the dollar amount for each of these departments will be increasing," he said.
The city runs with people who provide programs, services and keep the city running, he said, and at the exterior of the city departments, there are people who are the cogs in the gears that move forward.
"Our police officers, firefighters, code enforcement, our development, public works employees, a lot of our cultural and community service employees, and some of our housing employees," he said. "Those are the folks you interact with in the community. To make all of that work, there are internal departments that keep the gears of the operation running. All of these are important."
In council comments, Gabe Teran said that restoring services over the next three years is a responsible plan.
"What tangible changes do we think residents will be able to see if the budget moves forward into the new fiscal year," he asked. "Do we have a timeline when they'll be able to see those things."
Nguyen said that given the decisions the council has already made regarding streets, trees, medians, parks, and parkways, residents should aesthetically see drastic improvements this summer.
"To be mindful to recognize all the volunteer efforts over this past year, there's already been drastic improvement provided by so many volunteers across the city," he said. "Thanks to Mr. Mavin Boos and Mr. Michael Mercurio with their neighborhood pride they kicked off last summer. The public will see a lot more of that; with the resources from Measure E, we get to scale that up and bring it back to the standard it should be provided by the city."
Nguyen also said families will notice more robust programs offered for the youth and seniors.
"With regards to public safety, the key thing is getting caught up on filling the vacancies of police officers, firefighters, and getting those academies back on track," he said. "What I hope in this coming year is to see the quality of service provided by public safety remain at least where it is now, which is fantastic as it is. We are coming dangerously low on the number of sworn officers and firefighters that we have. Getting caught up on that is really important, so those services don't slip at all."
Councilman Bert Perello asked about the "illegal infrastructure use fee," and he asked City Attorney Stephen Fischer to address that issue.
"To my understanding, it was not ruled illegal," Perello said. "The method was wrong, but the action was not ruled illegal, and we are going forward with putting another one in place that will not have a problem in court."
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kevin Riper said when the city adopted its last budget, it assumed the general fund reserve would only be four percent by the end of the fiscal year.
"The city manager predicted the general fund reserve would be a little over 16 percent at the end of fiscal 2021," he said.
Fischer said the city may conduct a new infrastructure use fee study and take that to the judge for consideration.
"We are in the process of selecting a consultant for that purpose," he said.
Councilman Oscar Madrigal hopes this year's budget process is smooth.
"Things are a whole brighter now than they were 24 months ago," he said. "My key thing with this, and I'm usually the one who's upset about the ask, is we need to do a better job, long-term with Measure E. Right now, I know there is going to be an increase to each department, but there should be a bigger increase, and that would be in finance. When I started here, there were questions as to how much money the city had. Unless you have a strong finance team, I suggest we put money into finance to make it better."
Nguyen said the budget will be an interesting process.
"For the next round, June 15, there's going to be a video presentation by the CFO," he said.