Pomona's Plan to Contract Services Appears Doomed

Times Staff Writer

A plan under which this financially strapped city might have saved money by contracting with the county for police, fire and library service appears to be doomed, the victim of an unsupportive City Council and a county administration with financial problems of its own.

"The issue of county services is dead in Pomona," Councilman Mark Nymeyer said Tuesday of the idea first raised by the Citizens' Advisory Committee in December.

"I'm almost ready to say forget it," said Councilwoman Donna Smith, summing up the prevailing view among the city's five council members. "I don't think the people will allow it or the council will go in that direction."

Mayor G. Stanton Selby said contracting was "on the back burner" until three county studies of the costs involved are completed. Councilman Vernon Weigand predicted the issue will be dropped after a thorough analysis, and Councilman Jay Gaulding said he was "adamantly opposed" to contracting because it could compromise the city's independence.

Must Keep Searching

The apparent demise of the contracting option means Pomona officials must keep searching for a way out of their budget dilemma. The budget shortfall came to light in July when the council, after facing an angry throng of Pomona residents, backed down from a plan to impose a citywide assessment district for street repairs and tree trimming.

City officials had hoped that the assessment district would fill a $1.3-million gap in this year's budget.

"We've spent eight months looking at it," Gaulding said this week of the shortfall. "And we've done nothing on it. It looks grimmer every day."

The contracting recommendation was one of several made by the council-appointed advisory panel in a report on the city's financial predicament, which is expected to lead to a $4-million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

The council voted to ask the county to prepare feasibility reports on contracting for the services, and allotted $8,500 to pay for the studies.

Hankla Letter Opposes It

Last month, after county Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla had learned of the city's request, he told City Administrator Ora Lampman in a letter that he would recommend against contracting with the city unless the county could recover the "full cost" of providing the services. But he said in his Feb. 10 letter that "state law prevents counties from fully recovering the total cost of providing contract services to cities."

The state law in question is known as the Gonsalves bill, named after its sponsor, former Assemblyman Joe Gonsalves, who served from 1962 to 1974.

The bill, which took effect in 1974, was designed expressly to stop Los Angeles County from charging contract cities for certain administrative functions needed countywide. An association of contract cities, according to its current executive director, complained before the bill was passed complained that contract cities were paying at least some of the costs of maintaining elevators in county buildings and part of the salaries of the Board of Supervisors. Under the Gonsalves bill, only costs directly related to providing service to cities--new sheriff's substations or patrol cars, for example--can be passed on to the cities.

The law, Hankla said, does not allow the county to recover "certain of those costs related to managing the fiscal operation of the entire county, of which the individual contracting agency is a part." He listed his own office, that of the county auditor controller and the office of the treasurer and tax collector as costs that cannot be directly charged to cities.

Hankla indicated that he believes the county should be permitted to recover such costs because they are a necessary part of providing fire, police and library services.

County Faces Shortfall

He also said in the letter that Los Angeles County faces a $180 million shortfall in its 1986-87 budget. "In light of this, I must inform you that without full cost recovery, I cannot recommend any expansion of the county's contract services program," the letter said.

The letter evoked criticism from the Contract Cities' Assn., which represents 41 cities that contract with the county for a wide variety of services.

George Voigt, the association's executive director, questioned Hankla's use of the term "full cost," and said the law properly prevents some administrative expenses, including the costs of operating high-level administrative offices, from being included among the costs the county is entitled to recover. He said that after reading the letter to Lampman, he wrote Hankla to express his concern about how the chief administrator's position might affect present and future county contracts.

Although he said he respects Hankla, Voigt said he believes the chief administrator is "just casting about desperately for any source of funds he can because the county is in such deep financial straits."

Hankla this week clarified his position on cost recovery, saying that the Pomona contract studies will determine whether full cost recovery is possible.

Preceded Proposition 13

He said the Gonsalves bill preceded Proposition 13, which, among other things, limits the county's ability to raise revenue by adjusting the property tax rate annually. The two laws have placed such severe constraints on county revenue that the county may soon be unable to balance its budget, Hankla said.

"One obviously didn't have the other in mind," Hankla said of the two laws. "The county has limited revenue sources and unlimited service requirements. Something's got to give."

Work on two of the three Pomona feasibility studies is nearly completed, and a third, by the county Consolidated Fire District, is awaiting approval by the Board of Supervisors. The library and police studies are expected to be presented to the City Council within the next few weeks. County officials would not discuss details of either study.

James Hunt, an assistant chief with the fire district who has been assigned to work on his department's cost study for Pomona, said he believes contracting for fire services would benefit the city.

"We can do two things: One, save the city some money; and two, enhance service to all areas we serve," Hunt said.

Hunt said that a new county fire station in Pomona also could serve neighboring areas, improving response time.

Saving money and keeping the same or higher levels of service have been among Councilman Nymeyer's chief concerns in discussions about contracting with the county. A third concern cannot be met, according to Barbara Fondrick, a fire district administrator. That is Nymeyer's demand that the county promise jobs to every Pomona employee who would be affected in a switch to contracting.

Fondrick, who also has been assigned to the Pomona cost study, has said that it would not be possible for the county to absorb all of the city's fire employees.

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