2012-04-05 / Front Page

Agoura budget still at mercy of redevelopment

By Stephanie Bertholdo

HOME SWEET HOME—Tranquil Agoura Hills, founded in 1982, celebrates its 30th anniversary. 
Acorn file photo HOME SWEET HOME—Tranquil Agoura Hills, founded in 1982, celebrates its 30th anniversary. Acorn file photo The California’s sluggish economy persists, but the City of Agoura Hills says its budget remains fit.

At a March 28 budget meeting, officials discussed future city goals and how to dissolve Agoura’s 23-year-old redevelopment agency.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year that abolished California’s redevelopment agencies.

“Much of it is in flux right now,” said City Manager Greg Ramirez, who expects it will take another year to shut down the Agoura Hills RDA.

Nathan Hamburger, assistant city manager, said the city could lose about $625,000 because of the elimination of the RDA and its use of property taxes for redevelopment and other worthwhile projects. The calculations aren’t final, but Agoura Hills still expects to receive about $100,000 in property taxes that used to accrue to the RDA, Hamburger said.

The end of the RDA troubles city officials because it’s unknown whether the state agency that will handle the dissolution process will pay for administrative expenses or whether the city will have to absorb the cost through its general fund.

“Even if the worst case scenario plays out, we can still balance the budget,” Hamburger said.

Regarding the city’s overall financial health, Ramirez said there’s been a slight uptick in revenues coming in, but nothing to imply a solid rebound. Property taxes and sales taxes have increased slightly, he said. Public safety continues to take up about one-third of the city’s budget.

At the meeting, community services director Amy Brink talked about the need for improvements at Old Agoura Park.

She said the park’s equestrian ring needs better drainage, but a $10,000 price tag for the repairs knocked the project out of the running for this year. Roping equipment, a stationary bull and other items are more financially feasible, Brink said. A new table and hitching post will also be considered this year. In all, Brink asked for an allocation of $2,500 to update the equestrian park.

Councilmember Denis Weber had requested a new restroom in the park.

Eagle Scouts are expected to contribute storage boxes for equestrian and other equipment.

The city’s 30th anniversary celebration also was discussed. Rather than holding one main celebratory event, Brink suggested four or five. Among other activities, movies and concerts in the park will feature a tribute to the 1980s. The city was incorporated in 1982.

For Reyes Adobe Days in October, Brink envisions the theme “Celebrating 30 Years of the Good Life.” A commemorative book on the history of Agoura Hills is also being considered.

Mayor John Edelston suggested that the city bury a time capsule containing items that represent the city.

Edelston also introduced the concept of a community coalition, a five-person committee appointed by the City Council. Edelston said he wanted to create the coalition because of the rise in teen suicides in the region.

He said the coalition could provide services for at- risk youths, revitalize neighborhood watch programs, and encourage more emphasis on social, mental and recreational wellness for all citizens, including seniors.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the possibility of enacting a “dark skies” ordinance, which would limit nighttime illumination on businesses.

The ordinance was suggested by Councilmember Illece Buckley Weber. Currently the city has ordinances that restrict the intensity of lighting on buildings. Ramirez said the city must balance the aesthetics of a dark sky with safety for businesses and residents.

Las Virgenes Unified School District Superintendent Donald Zimring addressed educational concerns.

“Nowhere in your goals are schools even mentioned,” the superintendent said. “Next year we’ll be out of cash,” he said.

Councilmember Harry Schwarz said funding education continues to be a goal of the city, but that with the dissolution of the RDA, which previously funneled money into the school district, the funding has become problematic.

Buckley Weber said she wants the city to consider helping fund the aquatics program at Agoura High School. She also discussed the “Buy Local” program being promoted by the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“ Agoura Hills can’t be lumped together with Buy Local in the Conejo Valley,” she said. “We’re competing with Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks. We’ll never have a mall or a big shopping center. We’ve got to get people to shop here because of our uniqueness.”

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