Oxnard Citizens Group to Weigh Tax Increases

Times Staff Writer

The Oxnard City Council decided this week to form a citizens advisory group to consider the possibility of raising taxes to make up for an anticipated shortage in revenues that could climb as high as $4 million next year.

The committee, which will consist of 27 Oxnard residents, is expected to be in place by Sept. 19, but will not be expected to hand down a recommendation until January, city officials said Tuesday.

The earliest that any such increase could come before voters in a regular election, which is less expensive than a special election and usually has a higher voter turnout, would be June, 1990, when the gubernatorial primary will be held, said City Clerk Mabi Plisky.

The decision was the city's latest response to a revenue shortfall that is anticipated to reach $2.7 million on this year's $57.5-million budget. To bridge the gap, the City Council has already decided to cut such city services as street maintenance and to postpone replacing city employees who quit or retire.

Possible Tax Increases

In addition to a possible tax increase, the committee will study several other steps aimed at increasing revenues.

They include withholding the portion of sales taxes that Oxnard gives the county, raising fees that utility companies pay to use the city's roads, calling due a $3.1-million loan to Oxnard's Redevelopment Agency and establishing assessment districts for the maintenance of street lighting, city trees and road medians.

A task force of eight city officials that has drafted the list of options considered turning over upkeep of sidewalks and street trees to residents, but ruled out that option.

"True, someone could cut up their tree and save the city money, but it might not be up to the city's standards," said Rudy Muravez, the city's finance and management services director, who served as chairman of the city's Revenue Enhancement Task Force.

Selection Process

Also at Tuesday's meeting, council members endorsed an elaborate selection process aimed at preserving the new committee's independence.

They decided to include a representative appointed by each of eight key civic groups and by the city's two major private employers, St. John's Regional Medical Center and ABEX, an aerospace firm. In addition, each of the council's five members will nominate six members, for a total of 30, but only 15 will be selected at random to serve on the board. Council members Geraldine Furr and Dorothy Maron, who have served since January on the Revenue Enhancement Task Force, will also serve on the committee.

"We want to make it clear that this isn't a rubber-stamp committee with a preconceived agenda," Muravez said. "The introduction of a tax would require the approval of the voters and the support of the community."

Muravez estimated that the city could raise between $100,000 and $5 million each year by increasing taxes in any of six ways.

Choice of Methods

The committee will study increases in the city's 9% transient-occupancy tax, which is paid by guests at local hotels and motels; its business licenses, which already generate $1.4 million, and property taxes.

The committee also will be asked to consider establishing an admission tax on tickets to entertainment events in Oxnard and a special tax for police and fire services.

The committee may also revive an unpopular tax on utility bills that was phased out in 1986. The reintroduction of the tax, whose early eclipse has been blamed for part of the city's current financial crunch, could raise up to $1 million annually.

The loss of the city's portion of drunk driving fines to the county, which uses them to finance a probation program, and the loss of federal revenue sharing have also been held responsible as causes of the shortfall.

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