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Audit to Be Done After Election : Oxnard: Voters will be asked to approve a tax increase without knowing what caused the town’s financial problems.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite repeated assurances from city officials, an audit designed to uncover the cause of Oxnard’s financial crisis will not be completed before voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide a 5% utility tax measure.

The audit, scheduled to be completed Thursday, will not be done until at least June 19, officials announced Wednesday.

Opponents of the utility tax increase immediately criticized the delay, saying it is unfair to ask voters to approve a tax increase without first proving that the increase is justified.

“I don’t think that it’s reasonable to ask voters to approve the tax without knowing the reasons” for the fiscal crisis, said Marc L. Charney, a lawyer and member of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce. Some opponents said they think the city purposely delayed publication of the audit to avoid an embarrassing report just before the election, a charge city officials deny.

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The 5% utility users’ tax increase was designed to raise $5 million annually, wiping out a $2.8-million deficit in the current budget. The tax would be added to telephone, cable television, electricity, gas and garbage collection fees, and would cost the average household an extra $4 a month.

City officials have warned that if Measure C is rejected the city will have to make cuts in city services and personnel, possibly including laying off police and firefighters.

At the recommendation of a citizens advisory committee, the city decided in February to pay Cresap Management Consultants of Washington, D.C., $250,000 to audit the city books. The results were scheduled to be released May 31.

However, Bill G. Evans, president of Cresap, said in an interview Wednesday that city officials had recently raised new questions that required further study. He refused to say what those questions were.

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“We do not believe it would be in the best interest of the city to deliver an incomplete report,” he said.

He said he asked city officials to extend the deadline until June 19.

When completed, Evans said the audit will outline the reasons for the city’s financial problems and recommend solutions. Despite the fact that the audit is not yet complete, Evans said, he believes that the city will need additional taxes to fund city services at current levels.

In a letter to the City Council received Wednesday, Evans said that while the results of the audit “will recommend actions to reduce costs without reducing services, these actions, if adopted, clearly will not be sufficient to be a substitute for additional taxes.”

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Assistant City Manager John Tooker said it is up to the council to decide whether to penalize Cresap for failing to meet the deadline.

Terry Dempsey, campaign manager for Citizens for Public Safety, a group supporting the tax proposal, said he does not think delaying the audit report will hurt the measure’s chances of passage next week.

“The city needs the revenues regardless of how it got in this shape,” he said.

Council candidates Paul K. Dolan and Scott Bollinger disagreed. They said it is vital that voters know what caused the financial crisis before they decide on the tax increase.

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“They should know why they are giving good money to the very people that got them in this situation in the first place,” Bollinger said.

Dolan said he believes “deals were cut” at City Hall to delay the issuance of the report, a charge city officials deny.

Dolan and Bollinger said they believe the fiscal problems are due to corruption and mismanagement in City Hall and mailed a letter Wednesday to the U.S. attorney general’s office asking for a complete investigation.

A special City Council meeting had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon to receive and discuss the results of the audit. City officials said the meeting will be held as planned.

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