Ojai California small shops and spas help the city

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Ojai’s shops and spas keep city afloat in tougher times

A trolley rumbles down Ojai Avenue in downtown Ojai. The city’s $8.3 million budget covers part-time trolley service.

The city of Ojai is not immune to the recession, but as a small public agency in a low-foreclosure area, it is better prepared than some to weather the storm.

“Right now, we are right on budget,” City Manager Jere Kersnar said.

With few foreclosures, property values have largely held up in Ojai, he said. And sales tax receipts through September are holding steady, even showing modest gains when many cities are way below projections.

The rosy picture can be traced to Ojai’s unique collection of shops — free of auto dealerships or now-bankrupt retailers such as Linens ’n Things and Mervyns that are bleeding money and jobs in bigger cities.

“Overall, we have relatively low sales tax collections,” he said. Most are fueled by everyday purchases like groceries that people continue to make even in tough economic times.

“We don’t have auto dealers or big-box home improvement centers. On the flip side, when a recession hits, we don’t take that big of a hit.”

The city’s $8.3 million budget pays for 25 full-time employees as well as part-time trolley drivers and recreation staff.

Perhaps the best news is that the world-class Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is open and offering Zen-filled getaways to customers.

“We get 30 percent of our revenues from bed taxes,” Kersnar said. “What I’ve heard from hoteliers is that October was OK but November was terrible. So we’re going to have to watch closely to see if that trend continues.”

The city is committed, Kersnar said, to setting aside $500,000 to boost its reserves to $3.7 million by July 1. The eventual goal is $4.2 million. “That surplus,” he said, “creates a cushion that gives us time and options”

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