Ventura Council to Decide Capital Projects Funding

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A messy political battle is expected Monday when the Ventura City Council decides which capital projects should be funded for the next six years.

The council will consider a list of 111 proposed projects--costing $117 million--that would improve or maintain the city's roads, water and sewer systems, and recreation facilities.

Council members will weigh the merits of building a new sewage treatment plant against the cost of replacing old sewer lines. They will decide whether to fund street maintenance or re-stripe intersections. And they will debate whether to spend money for new water wells or repairing aging reservoirs.

Projects not geared toward preventive maintenance will be particularly scrutinized. And council members may grab millions of dollars set aside for a convention center and a pool to pay for other projects.

"It's going to boil down to the essentials," Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures said. "We're in a tight economic crunch."

Final approval of the capital-project budget is scheduled in June, but most of the major decisions will be made Monday.

According to recommendations in a draft report, little money in the proposed six-year plan is set aside for new buildings, parks or other large projects. Most of the 111 projects are geared toward maintaining the city's infrastructure rather than adding significantly to it.

"We're gun-shy on building new things that will mean a lot of maintenance costs," budget Director Mike Solomon said.

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Past Ventura councils and city staff have traditionally emphasized spending dollars on maintenance, Solomon said.

"If you don't fix it now, you'll pay more later," he said.

In a study session held about two weeks ago, council members said they want to fund most of the projects recommended by staff. The council is also interested in spending an additional $13.5 million in street maintenance over the next six years, which means it will have to decide Monday where that money will come from. The council will also decide how to raise $23.2 million for more water-related projects, as well as a $7.8-million project to expand a major sewer line on the city's east end.

"They can take the money from other projects, look at using reserves or go out and do some kind of financing," Solomon said. The new water-related projects will probably be financed by increasing water rates and issuing certificates of participation, he said.

Councilman Jack Tingstrom said he expects fireworks over the issue of dipping into the $9.6 million set aside for a convention center at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, and the $3.8 million set aside for a public swimming pool.

"If we're going through bad economic times, we have to look at other dollars," Tingstrom said, referring to special holding accounts for the convention center and the pool. "However, those funds were raised for a particular purpose and once you go in and rob it, it's not going to be there anymore."

Councilman Gary Tuttle, who has proposed scrapping the convention center project and allocating the $9.6 million for other projects, is expected to square off against Councilman Jim Monahan, who has consistently supported building the center.

Another controversial project is the Bristol sewer line, which must be expanded to accommodate future development in Ventura's east end. But Tuttle and Councilman Steve Bennett have repeatedly voiced opposition to more development in that part of the city, and may push for developers to pay for expansion of the sewer line.

The proposed spending plan also calls for allocating $41.7 million through the year 2000 on traffic-mitigation programs and road improvements. Big-ticket items heading the list include $8 million for an expanded Ventura Freeway interchange at Johnson Drive and $7.8 million for improving the freeway interchange at Victoria Avenue.

Other projects include $250,000 for upgrading 25 traffic signals and $700,000 for re-striping intersections to provide additional lanes.

Water projects total about $38.5 million, mostly earmarked for reservoir repairs and new wells. The plan suggests spending $5.2 million for major repairs to a reservoir built in 1939, and $4.8 million for expanding a treatment plant. Replacing waterlines that are leaking would cost $8.7 million. About $1 million would be spent on engineering studies for a proposed desalination plant.

Sewer and sanitation projects total about $28.5 million. One of the major projects, building a new treatment plant, would cost $8.9 million.

About $6.1 million is proposed for parks and recreation projects, including $1.8 million to construct a 5.5-mile Ventura River bike trail, which would connect the 3.5-mile Omer Rains Trail along the Ventura coastline with the 9.5-mile Ojai Valley Trail. Under the plan, $1.7 million would be earmarked for future park projects and $495,000 would be allocated for replacing playground equipment at city parks.

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City officials, who want to revitalize the downtown, propose spending $2.3 million for the area, as well as $1.5 million for landscaping, lighting and paving.

The $117 million to fund the proposed projects comes from several sources, including sales, property and gas taxes. Developer contributions, sewer and water fees and state and federal grant money also contribute to the city's capital-improvement budget.

Many of the fees and taxes can only be used for particular projects. For example, fees from residents' water bills are earmarked for water-related projects.

"I think that all money set aside for projects will come under strict scrutiny," Monahan said.

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