ELECTIONS OXNARD : Mayor Says Audit Favors Police, Fire Reductions

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As controversy mounts over a management audit designed to uncover the cause of Oxnard's financial crisis, Mayor Nao Takasugi revealed Thursday that an auditing firm hired by the city already has suggested drastic cuts to police and fire services to balance the city's budget.

In individual meetings with council members last month, Cresap Management Consultants of Washington said the financially stricken city may have to consider cutting 41 positions--including 31 sworn officers--in the Police Department, eliminate 18 positions in the Fire Department, close two fire stations and sell some city parks, Takasugi said.

The final management audit, ordered by the city in February, was scheduled to be released Thursday. But Bill Evans, vice president of Cresap, notified city officials Wednesday that the report would not be completed until June 19.

At Thursday's council meeting, Takasugi called the proposed cuts unacceptable and recommended that the council cancel its contract with Cresap for missing the deadline. The mayor said he is "indignant and appalled" that Cresap waited until the last minute to notify the city that it would not meet the deadline.

Evans could not be reached for comment.

Councilman Manuel Lopez agreed with Takasugi, saying the final audit will be almost meaningless since it will not be submitted to the city before voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide on a 5% utility tax increase.

Lopez and Takasugi said it is important that voters know the results of the audit before considering the tax increase, which is designed to ease the city's financial woes by generating $5 million annually.

City officials said that if approved the revenues generated by the tax would wipe out an anticipated $2.8-million deficit and eliminate the need for cuts in services and personnel.

The mayor's proposal to cancel the contract with Cresap failed when council members voted 2 to 2 on the measure. Councilwomen Dorothy Maron and Geraldine (Gerry) Furr opposed the proposal. Councilwoman Ann Johs was absent.

Maron and Furr said they opposed the measure because they believe that the city is partly to blame for the audit's delay. They said Cresap was forced to do additional work on the audit after council members and city staff members raised several concerns about it.

Although Cresap had asked the council to extend the deadline until June 19, it voted to take no further action until its next regular meeting Tuesday.

City Atty. Gary Gillig said the city is obligated to pay $72,000 for the preliminary audit but does not have to pay an additional $175,000 for the uncompleted final audit.

Meanwhile, opponents of the tax measure accused the council of purposely delaying the audit. Others maintained that a draft copy of the audit had been completed and shown to city officials. City officials deny the allegations.

Scott Bollinger, a self-employed investor who has announced that he will run for the council in November, said he talked to Cresap representatives who told him on Tuesday that a draft copy was prepared, although he said they would not tell him whether city officials have seen it. Bollinger and Paul K. Dolan, also a council candidate, have mailed a letter to the U.S. attorney general's office asking for an investigation.

In an interview Thursday, Police Chief Robert Owens said Cresap officials last week gave him a section of a draft audit report dealing with the Police Department and said he believes several other department heads received similar reports. Owens refused to say what was included in the report.

Bill Lewis, president of the Oxnard Peace Officers Assn. and an outspoken supporter of the tax measure, said at the council meeting that Cresap must have considered only financial savings when it made the recommendations for cuts but did not consider the impact on Oxnard residents.

Marc L. Charney, an attorney and Oxnard Chamber of Commerce member, accused council members of capitalizing on gloomy fiscal reports to persuade voters to approve the tax increase.

"You are using this meeting as a campaign rally or political advertisement" for the tax measure, he said.

Amid the discussion about personnel reductions, there was only a brief explanation for the city's financial crisis.

In an interview after the meeting, City Manager David Mora said Cresap representatives told council members last month that the crisis came about because of inadequate revenue to pay for city services. Mora, however, said Cresap did not say why the city is facing a revenue shortfall.

Mora has said the fiscal crisis was partly created in 1987 when the City Council eliminated a 4% utility tax two years before it was set to end. That alone has cost the city between $4.5 and $5 million a year, he said.

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