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City Budget Looms, Time for You — Yes, You — to Get Involved

By Rebecca Wicks
Ventura Breeze
Mar. 6, 2013

It’s time.

It’s time to think about what matters most to us as residents of the City of Ventura because city staff is starting to think about it. And, what’s more soon enough the Ventura City Council will be making decisions about what will and will not funded this next fiscal year. They will be making these decisions with or without your input, so I say, give them your input.

Here’s the skinny. The fiscal year we are talking about goes from Jul. 1, 2013 through Jun. 30, 2014. City staff will present their recommended budget on Apr. 22. Then, throughout May and the first half of June, the council will take that budget and finagle it until everyone (okay, clearly not everyone) will be happy, having created a passable budget. The final budget will be voted on Jun. 17.

Simple, right? Not really. As Ventura’s Chief Financial Officer Jay Panzica explained, we have essentially been stealing from Peter to give to Paul for the past couple of years and it’s catching up with us.

When the economy headed south the city opted not to borrow money or take money from its reserve fund (which is slated for catastrophic events, e.g., an earthquake). Instead, in order to pay for services councilmembers thought dire, it took money from internal department funds. These departments include those that take care of other departments such as the technology group, which fixes and supports computers used throughout the city, the maintenance group that cares for all of the city’s vehicles and the facilities group, which maintains city buildings.

According to Panzica these internal groups have been neglected for too many years now, and are in somewhat critical need of funding. It is this point among others Panzica has been working to illustrate to city council members who have been sitting through educational workshops run by Panzica. The workshop meetings focus on outlining what has been done budget-wise for the past four to five years.

Oh, and another thing, there is a discrepancy between forecasted revenues and our past fiscal years budget. This means, if the city were to change nothing in its existing budget we would still be $1.2 million short. That doesn’t include funding those internal departments, which have been languishing the last 5 years.

All this means some serious decisions need to be made.

“The city council members are going to have to decide between a lot of important and conflicting priorities,” said Panzica.

And, again it’s not always as simple as picking one or two priorities. As Panzica points out, no one city service exists in a vacuum.

“You can’t just say we want more police and say forget everything else,” explained Panzica. “The police department is supported by other departments in the city and can’t function alone.”

What can you do? You can write a letter or email to councilmembers telling them what you want from your local government. You can attend a Monday night city council meeting where there is time for the public to come forward. Again, a crucial time period where council members will be actively hashing through what to spend money on will be between Apr. 22 and early June.

If you want to learn more about the city’s budget, there are a number of resources to tap, almost all of them online. You can review what this year’s budget included by viewing the Budget Book documents online or you can peruse last year’s budget a lengthy document entitled Comprehensive Financial Annual Financial Report (CFAFR), which reads similar to a traditional company’s annual report.

The councilmembers have some tough decisions ahead of them. I’m suggesting we give them some help. They are, after all, suppose to be representing us. If we don’t give them input on what we feel the priorities need to be, then we only have ourselves to blame.