Budget Says Only Option Is Cutbacks, Many Layoffs : Oxnard: The City Council is deciding how to deal with a $2.8-million shortfall that it will face unless voters approve a 5% utility tax increase.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oxnard officially unveiled a budget for the coming year Wednesday that provides only one alternative for the city to avoid a $2.8-million deficit: reduction of city services and massive layoffs across the board.

The $61.7-million budget for 1990-91, which is scheduled for final consideration and adoption by the City Council at the end of June, held few surprises for city officials.

"There's nothing here that we didn't already know," City Manager David Mora said.

For months, city officials have projected a deficit primarily due to several unexpected expenditures, including a $690,000 increase in the cost of the workers compensation program and $460,000 to remove asbestos from city buildings.

The two-inch-thick budget released Wednesday, however, makes it clear that unless alternative revenues are identified the city will have to impose severe budget cuts.

"The city must, therefore, either begin to permanently phase out currently existing service levels . . . or identify and secure new permanent general fund resources," the report says.

Oxnard could retain police, fire, street, park and other city services at their current level if voters approve a proposed 5% utility tax increase on the June 5 ballot. The measure, which the council placed on the ballot to solve the city's financial woes, would bring in $5 million annually.

"Without the additional revenue proposed by the utility users' tax, the service reductions required this year will not only have to continue, but additional reductions will also be required," the report says.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, Mora has said, the budget was drafted under the assumption that the tax will not pass. If the tax is approved, the council will be able to adjust the budget and retain current service levels.

For the last four years, the city has dipped into its reserve funds to balance the budget. But this year, the City Council has said it will not touch the reserves, which have dropped to about $4 million from $9 million in the past five years.

The reserves were tapped to compensate for a decline in revenues such as drunk driving fines, which were diverted to the county in 1987, the early elimination of a previous utility tax and reduced franchise taxes paid by Southern California Gas Co.

The decision on how to reduce services next year and which positions to cut lies with the City Council.

"It will be interesting to see what will happen if the tax doesn't pass," said Bill Lewis, president of the Oxnard Peace Officers Assn., which is campaigning door-to-door to persuade voters to approve the tax. "I'm just glad you and I aren't on the City Council."

Opponents of the utility tax blame the city's financial woes on fiscal mismanagement. They predict that a management audit to be completed at the end of this month will show how the city has misused its funds.

Supporters say that unless the tax is approved, the city's police and fire services would suffer drastic cuts.

The budget report agrees. It includes nine pages of budget cutting options totaling $3,649,539 and recommends eliminating 80 full-time jobs.

The largest budget cut included in the list of options would be to the Police Department. One of the options includes eliminating 27 positions in the department, including a six-officer motorcycle traffic unit, a nine-officer field tactical team and one victim assistance specialist.

Mayor Nao Takasugi and Councilwoman Ann Johs were out of town Wednesday. Council members Manuel Lopez, Dorothy Maron and Geraldine (Gerry) Furr could not be reached for comment.

The report says revenues from property and sales taxes have increased substantially because of a sound national economy and a strong city development program. But despite an increase of more than $6 million over last year, the city's revenues are insufficient to meet the expected expenditures, the report says.

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