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Recession Saps Cities’ Sales Tax Revenues : The economy: Only Thousand Oaks--bolstered by auto sales and its major mall--barely held its own financially.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The recession--reflected by sharply dropping sales tax revenues--has slammed into Ventura County’s urban areas with a vengeance and has finance officials apprehensive about when the economy will bottom out.

Simi Valley, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura show dramatic declines in sales tax revenues for the first quarter of fiscal year 1992--covering the months of July, August and September--compared to the same period a year ago, according to figures given to The Times on Monday.

Only Thousand Oaks barely held its own during the first quarter. Consistent retail sales at its big shopping mall, The Oaks, and steady auto sales left the city in relatively decent financial shape, Finance Director Robert Biery said.

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“We had to be somewhat satisfied,” he said.

Officials in other cities, such as Oxnard, are clearly worried.

“The recession is hitting the city very hard,” said Stan Kleinman, Oxnard’s chief accounting officer.

Sales tax figures for the second quarter ending in December, the time frame that includes the critical holiday shopping period, won’t be in until next year. City officials countywide are apprehensive.

“I think people are tightening their belts,” said Anita Bingham, the Camarillo finance director.

State analysts don’t offer much immediate hope for beleaguered city officials such as those in Ventura County.

“We’re going nowhere in a hurry,” said Jeff Reynolds, chief of the research and statistics division of the state Board of Equalization, which collects sales taxes and then parcels the revenues out to local government.

Urban counties such as Ventura--areas with large population pockets or next to major metropolitan centers--are feeling the brunt of the recession, he said.

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“Cities have had a horrible time balancing budgets this year and it’s going from bad to worse,” said Jim Harrington, assistant director of the League of California Cities in Sacramento.

“We’re experiencing rapid growth (throughout California) and most of this goes into cities,” he said. “At the same time, revenues are falling off precipitously.”

Here are the fiscal year 1992 first-quarter sales tax revenues as reported by Ventura County’s major cities compared to the same quarter last year:

* Ventura, $3,213,887 versus $3,694,979, down 13%.

* Oxnard, $2,805,000 versus $3,086,000, down 9%.

* Camarillo, $864,000 versus $1,068,000, down 19%.

* Simi Valley, $1,403,000 versus $1,801,000, down 22%.

* Thousand Oaks, $2,938,000 versus $2,977,000, down 1%.

Statewide in fiscal year 1991, the sales tax generated almost $19 billion, of which $2.8 billion was returned by the state to cities and counties. The bulk of this cash went to the state’s 468 cities, the Board of Equalization’s Reynolds said. This overall figure was up about 1% over the previous fiscal year.

But then the recession began taking a tighter grip on retail sales which, for the most part, are a city’s biggest source of revenues for its general fund.

As a rule of thumb, said the League of California Cities’ Harrington, about 29% of general fund revenues come from the sales tax.

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“It’s the most elastic revenue cities have,” he said. “It responds very quickly to economic activity.”

Cities, therefore, are juggling their finances in the face of the uncertain economic outlook, he said.

City officials in Ventura County said they do not expect to see a better economy until consumers return to the marketplace in greater numbers.

“Buying power is down,” said Terry Adelman, the city of Ventura’s finance director. “We didn’t expect it to go this negative in the last quarter. We’re still waiting for the bottom to hit.”

First-Quarter Sales Tax Revenues

Here are the fiscal year 1992 first-quarter sales tax revenues as reported by Ventura County’s major cities compared to the same quarter last year:

* Ventura, $3,213,887 versus $3,694,979, down 13%.

* Oxnard, $2,805,000 versus $3,086,000, down 9%.

* Camarillo, $864,000 versus $1,068,000, down 19%.

* Simi Valley, $1,403,000 versus $1,801,000, down 22%.

* Thousand Oaks, $2,938,000 versus $2,977,000, down 1%.

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