Drop in SP revenues becomes obvious with potholes, weedy landscapes

February 12, 2010
Santa Paula News

What’s been apparent on paper - a still down economy and continuing state grabs at the city’s wallet - is starting to become as obvious as the potholes in the streets and a lack of landscaping on public rights of way.

 And Santa Paulans are noticing, causing phone calls to City Hall asking “What gives?”

“People are already calling about the potholes, telling us the weeds are out of control,” said Interim City Manager Cliff Finley. “The community needs to connect the dots with this and understand” services have been eroded due to years of state takeaways, as well as the now still bad economy.

The state is delaying in paying the city $250,000 in gas taxes used for streets and landscape maintenance along the city rights of way, and with the dwindling funds the city streets department has gone from nine employees to four. “We’re backfilling those who left” with workers whose efforts are now redirected to such duties as picking up trash, replacing those who retired, and due to fiscal restraints the positions cannot be filled. The state has borrowed property tax of $422,000 from the approximately $2.5 million the city would have received, with promises to pay the funds back in three years.

“When people drive along Main Street” they see weeds and overgrowth in usually tidy landscapes, planted bushes becoming bushy with the lack of attention. The city, said Finley, had paid Colman Landscaping $108,000 annually for such services, a contract now cancelled although it represented a savings over having city staff handle the job, and now there is less staff.

Finance Director John Quinn said there is a lawsuit centered on the state’s bid to retain Redevelopment Agency funding, and Santa Paula risks losing $770,000. If lost, the lawsuit, which involves all those on the receiving end of RDA, would mean Santa Paula’s fund would be virtually broke.

The city had been receiving about $3 million in two RDA installments, and if the lawsuit is not successful Quinn said the city “would have to write a check” or the funds just might be deducted from the next payment. With pass-through agreements with various entities such as school districts and the County of Ventura that get a share of such funding, the cost would be “humungous... we’ll have virtually nothing.”

Quinn said 20 percent of all RDA must be set aside for affordable housing programs, and “In a good year we only accrue about $100,000,” of funding. In addition, the city has awarded several good-sized housing grants, and Quinn said that fund is now “pretty slim.”

But back to the obvious effects: Finley said the city has to be creative in fulfilling its maintenance needs. “We’re thinking about maybe scheduling an additional clean up day in the spring, but our only hesitation is those events cost the city money and take time and effort to put together, even though they don’t seem to.”

If people realize the financial facts of city life they must realize “Just like everybody else, every homeowner, we have to prioritize the things that have to be done.” And much of it won’t be done: “People,” said Finley, “have to understand there are fewer city employees to respond to their needs.” The city workforce has been reduced from 150 full-time employees to 130 or fewer, a “15 percent to 20 percent reduction of employees.” 

And “As far as potholes go, we tell people ‘Thank you for calling, but you have to understand there are fewer people.’ The problem is if we had eight people and now have four out doing potholes,” essential services, such as trash pickup, would be impacted. “There are,” noted Finley, “less people doing more work because we eliminated contracts.”

To maintain the public rights of way it would take about two city employees, more expensive than the city contract. In addition, said Finley, Colman Landscaping is a “Santa Paula business” that is negatively impacted by the loss of the city contract.

“We just want people to understand,” he added. “We just don’t have the personnel now.”

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