For residents of Simi Valley, it was an unusual sight: county officials, ready to do business in east Ventura County.
For three hours Saturday, more than a dozen county agencies set up shop at the little-used East County Courthouse, offering more than 200 visitors a chance to ask questions, lodge complaints, pick up brochures and meet some of the county's top officials.
There was Tax Collector Harold S. Pittman, who brought computer terminals to help straighten out property-tax problems. He even collected a $250 payment from a Simi Valley man.
Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and his aides listened to horror stories and promised help with unpaid child support, bad checks, graffiti and juvenile delinquents.
Auditor-Controller Thomas O. Mahon used electronic monitors to guide viewers through a colorful, if depressing, look at the county's financial prospects.
And for children, the sheriff's search-and-rescue team demonstrated lifesaving techniques while the Animal Regulation Department offered tips on avoiding snakebites.
Moorpark resident Geret Kreitzer came to the open house with two objectives: getting his property taxes lowered, and getting the 11-year-old who attacked his wife arrested. He went away happy.
"I've gotten quite a bit of assistance here," the 61-year-old Kreitzer said.
First, a representative of the county assessor's office told him how to apply for a re-examination of his house's property tax assessment, "which I learned is a very involved process," Kreitzer said.
Then Bradbury promised to look into filing charges against the student who recently attacked Kreitzer's wife, who teaches at a Simi Valley school.
"So I had very positive experiences with both the assessor and the D.A.," Kreitzer said. "If I went to the Government Center, I couldn't have broken in with an Uzi to talk to them. . . . I have never gone to the Government Center when I haven't gotten the grand and glorious runaround."
But a drive to the Government Center in Ventura--a 72-mile round trip from Simi Valley--is still the only way that east county residents can obtain some county services, officials acknowledged Saturday.
"We're the Timbuktu of Ventura County," said Supervisor Vicky Howard, who organized the open house and whose district includes Simi Valley and Moorpark.
County agencies dealing with air pollution, environmental health, property assessment and tax collection are located only in Ventura, although some have toll-free numbers to make it easier for east county residents.
"We have no east county representation," said Doris Miller of the Environmental Health Division, which handles everything from mosquito control to hazardous waste removal. "We mail out a lot of brochures."
Some visitors to the open house said they want more than that.
"County services should be enhanced at this end of the county," said Bob Cooksey of Simi Valley. "It's silly that people here have to drive to Ventura to pick up forms."
Dick Strayer of Simi Valley agreed. "I would like to see more county offices here all the time," he said.
Howard said most of the complaints she hears come from attorneys, who want to get more use out of the 2-year-old East County Courthouse. Only one of the building's five courtrooms is used regularly.
But Howard said the county's shortage of judges makes it unlikely that more cases will be heard in the east county. And because of budget problems, Sheriff Larry Carpenter is considering pulling his deputies out of security duty at the courthouse, which would force all court proceedings to shut down there.
In spite of budget problems, more county agencies are coming to the east county, officials said Saturday. For example, the Public Social Service Agency's children's services unit is moving about 35 employees from Ventura to the Simi Valley courthouse in a few weeks. And other agencies, dealing with such things as drugs and alcohol, agriculture, mental health, and building and safety, have long had a presence in Simi Valley or Thousand Oaks.
But with the supervisors' approval last week of a four-day work week for most county employees, starting in May, residents will have fewer days to conduct their county business, no matter where they live.
"We are getting more services out here," said Howard, who maintains an office at the East County Courthouse. She said she hopes to provide space for the tax collector to set up shop twice a year when payments are due.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Colleen (Toy) White said her agency hopes to dispatch someone to the east county to take complaints on consumer fraud and child support.
Several officials said they would like to be more visible in the east county but the budget crisis makes that difficult.
"As the county grows, there really is a need for people out here," said Dennis Trenten, licensing supervisor for children's services. "But it's not going to be free."