Ventura: Growning Stronger While Keeping Its Charm
Mayor Erik Nasarenko presented the State of the City address titled -- Ventura: Growing Stronger While Keeping Its Charm -- Now and For a Strong Tomorrow - on February 13, 2017 in the Ventura City Hall Council Chambers.
Ventura is a charming location with a beautiful natural landscape. We will look at how our city continues to grow stronger economically while retaining its charm.
Our General Fund Revenues are increasing, as are our expenditures. We are continuing to balance our budget, living within our means and we are not spending more than we are receiving. But we’re seeing ongoing and escalating retirement costs encroaching upon the revenue; this is something that we need to keep track of as a City Council.
We’re also seeing a growth in Transient Occupancy Tax, or “hotel bed tax”, which is the amount we collect when tourists stay in our hotels. In 2016 we collected almost $6 million in TOT thanks to efforts from the Visitors and Convention Bureau to bring more tourists to Ventura.
Thank you to the voters of Ventura who approved the local sales tax increase, Measure O, on the November ballot. Special thanks to Jim Duran, Ed Wehan and Kevin Clerici who were part of the leadership team for the Yes on Measure O committee who stewarded this measure to passage. Beginning April 1, 2017 our local sales tax will be 7.75% and will generate $10.8 million annually; we’ll receive the first quarterly installment of this revenue in July.
How will we spend that money?
The first thing we going to do is address immediate infrastructure improvements, including streets, tree wells, street medians and sidewalks.
You cannot grow an economy without growing local businesses. We are fortunate in Ventura to have an outstanding network of hospitals. Community Memorial Hospital’s expansion, Ventura County Medical Center’s expansion and the new Kaiser Permanente medical campus will all be completed in 2017. These medical facilities demonstrate our commitment to healthcare, wellness, and to bringing high-paying jobs to our community.
We cannot lure new businesses to Ventura without attending to and addressing our infrastructure needs. New sewer lines along Main Street at Brent Street replaced nearly 50-year old, undersized pipes. These infrastructure improvements allow the businesses and hospitals in our Wellness District to grow and serve the needs of our community.
What fiscal pressures, constraints and stresses do we have on this economic growth?
Changes in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will impact municipalities, which will have to make up the reduction in PERS investment returns. For Ventura, that shortage is approximately $6 million in retirement expenses. Fortunately, in our budget forecasting the City of Ventura has taken steps to ensure the costs of pension are share between the city and its employees. And Ventura is the only city in the county that does not contribute to post-retirement medical benefits.
We have to plan accordingly for economic downturns. General Fund Reserves are the City’s savings account or “rainy day fund.” We need to be well-positioned financially for a recessionary climate. Industry standard is to have 60 days of operating reserves, we have 45 days. We’ll need to put about $4 million more in our reserve fund.
Crime has an impact our economic vitality. In 2016 there were eight reported homicides in Ventura, which is low relative to other cities, but is the highest number we’ve had in the last sixteen years. The good news is that our Ventura Police Department has cleared or “closed”, by arrest, six of those cases. This is a 75% clearance rate; well above the 61.5% national clearance rate. Ventura Police detectives are actively working and following leads for the remaining two open cases.
Ventura’s homeless population has decreased steadily since 2012 when we counted 701 homeless persons, and in 2016 there were 300. Thanks to a productive public workshop with the community late last year, we discussed the need to designate a manufacturing and industrial zone of the city as a larger geographic area where crisis housing for the homeless can be situated.
Another issue we have to address is water. Despite the recent rainfall, the city of Ventura continues to be in an extreme drought environment. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties are the only the only counties in the entire state that are still considered in an extreme drought stage. Currently, Lake Casitas is at 38% of capacity. We need to look for ways to grow sensibly, and consider long-term, sustainable water supply solutions. We are studying a connection with the State Water Project to receive water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and looking at potential sites for a water reuse facility to convert recycled water into pure drinking water.
What makes Ventura so unique and such a special place? It’s unique quality of life - its charm. This year, Sunset Magazine recognized Ventura as the second best city to live in, and called our community the “Off-ramp to paradise.” Amenities like the Ventura Harbor, gateway to the Channel Islands, one of our country’s national parks, and the Ventura Botanical Gardens show what a magnificent city this is. Consider also our Downtown, full of independent places to shop, dine, enjoy art and theatre. Our city is a place of fantastic natural beauty, and as we continue to grow stronger, we’ll always be Ventura and we’ll always keep our charm.