HeWhen it comes to Oxnard’s looming budget cuts, City Manager Alex Nguyen’s proposals for the chopping block are causing an uproar, particularly where the Carnegie Art Museum and the Performing Arts Center are concerned. Nguyen says that the city has a $9.2 million shortfall, with $3 million coming from the rainy day fund and the rest from city budget items and staff layoffs. The budget must be approved by June 30.
With a $361 million budget for Oxnard, it’s hard to imagine how to plan for cuts, what is a must and what is nonessential. Given Oxnard’s troubling financial history and an accounting system that dates back to the 1990s (the system was so unreliable that even the district attorney couldn’t file any charges after two years of investigations), we understand that nothing is simple about running a city.
Along with closing the PACC and the Carnegie Art Museum, other proposed cuts include closing the Colonia Branch Library, grounding a fire engine at Fire Station 2 in the southern part of the city, cancelling the Fourth of July fireworks hosted annually at the Channel Islands Harbor, slashing the city’s Visit Oxnard tourism budget in half, eliminating the city’s Public Information Office entirely, cutting 30 percent of the city’s groundskeepers positions and releasing the victims advocate and communications manager (both civilian positions) at the Oxnard Police Department. A total of 28 employees will be laid off. Nguyen said that there is no way to make pay cuts across the board due to labor contracts in place.
While few would argue that cuts should come from police and fire or public works, it’s a real shame that two buildings that have played a pivotal role in providing a change of pace — venues for entertaining and being entertained, as well as for social activities that aren’t consumer driven —are valued only for what they cost the city from the general budget. Further, in reality, a significant problem that can’t just be wiped away with the new fiscal year and continues to be a structural drain on city budgets across the country, the high costs of salaries and the consequential pensions. That is the main issue being ignored: in 2018, $8 million of Oxnard’s general fund covered pensions. By 2023, it is estimated to be $16 million.
To simply cut, to “pull off the band-aid” of funding for these two art centerpieces of Oxnard seems a bit shortsighted. While approving a balanced budget is a necessity, cutting off two community centers plus the Colonia Branch Library, as well as the fireworks show, seems more like a punishment for city residents rather than a benefit in the long run.
At this point, the city must do what it has to do to keep essential services in place, but it would seem that there could be more wiggle room in a $361 million budget to fund, at least in part or temporarily, these major contributors to the arts while community organizers figure out how to keep them sustainable on their own down the road, including forming a public-private partnership. City government isn’t responsible for providing a sense of community, but it should be concerned when it cuts the things that do.