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Man Who Kept Torrance in Black Heads for Greens

Times Staff Writer

When William W. Dundore drives along the city’s congested streets and sees residential and commercial developments going up, full parking lots at the Del Amo Fashion Center and smoke billowing from the Mobil Oil refinery, he smiles.

Dundore, Torrance’s finance director for nearly 22 years, knows that when business is good, it’s great for Torrance.

“Residents here have to put up with traffic and some of the fumes from industry that the people on the Hill (Palos Verdes Peninsula) don’t have to,” he said, “but we have a much stronger tax base and therefore we can have a higher level of service for our residents.”

The financial success that Torrance enjoys--which allows it to operate its own library and transit systems and water and airport departments--is due partly to luck, partly to good management and partly to Dundore.

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Dundore, whom everyone calls Bill, has been the city’s finance director since 1964. As the city’s chief accountant, he has to be able to predict revenues from various taxes and other sources as well as make sure the city’s books balance.

When Dundore was hired in 1964, the city had a general fund budget of $7.7 million. This year the city expects to have more than $71 million in the general fund. And except for 1978-79, when city coffers statewide dwindled because property taxes were slashed under Proposition 13, the city has been able to add services every year. Even in 1978-79 there were no layoffs in Torrance.

“Part of the challenge of the job has been to keep the tax base fair and equitable to all users of city services,” he said, noting that the city’s permanent population of 130,000 balloons to nearly 750,000 during the day with people who come to Torrance to work and shop. “In order to meet the city’s growth, we’ve had to put in new taxes, but industry continues to pay the largest portions of the tax base.”

But now Dundore, who turns 65 on May 30, is putting down his pencils and spread sheets for woods, irons and a score card. He is retiring at the end of the month after 36 years in government financing and plans to travel with his wife, Julie, and play a lot of golf.

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‘It’s a Great Game’

“I’ve played for 35 years, but I don’t get much better,” he said during a recent interview in his office. “But it’s a great game because for about four or five hours you forget everything else. I’ve taken maybe two sick days in the last 21 years. I attribute my good health to golf.”

Torrance does not have a mandatory retirement age for managers, so Dundore does not have to retire. But he said that financially--and how else do accountants think?--he is better off retiring now from public service. His pension, not including Social Security, will equal about 90% of his current annual salary, which he would only say is slightly more than $60,000. But he said his take-home pay will actually be higher than it is now because he won’t be paying into retirement accounts.

“I reached the point where financially it doesn’t do me any good to continue working in the public sector,” he said. “If I do want to continue working I’m better off working in the private sector as a consultant or something.”

The city plans to launch a national search to find a successor for Dundore.

Except for a brief period when he worked for a small private accounting firm after graduating from UCLA in 1948, Dundore has been in government financing all his life.

Started With State

He did not intend to be a public servant, but in 1948 after World War II, accountants were “a dime a dozen,” he said. His first government job was with the state controller’s office, auditing cities. Seven years later he became city clerk-finance officer for San Marino. After six years at that job he became city controller of Santa Monica.

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Two years later, he was hired by Torrance as finance director.

Dundore said he had expected to stay in Torrance only four or five years, but the challenge of dealing with a growing city and the comfort of familiar home surroundings kept him living and working in Torrance.

City officials are glad he did.

“He has done an outstanding job,” said Mayor Katy Geissert, who has been on the City Council since 1974. “For 21 years he has been an important part of the team maintaining the financial stability of the city.”

Triple-A Rating

“Bill is responsible for the respect we have in the financial community,” said City Manager LeRoy Jackson, noting that the city has a triple-A rating, the highest available, with bond rating agencies. “Bill has absolute credibility with all members of the financial community.”

Ed Ferraro, a real estate developer who was city manager from 1964 to 1983 and hired Dundore, said he has been more than just an accountant. “Bill was a significant member of the management team,” Ferraro said. “He maintained a close relationship to make sure we stayed within the budget. He formulated midyear budget reviews and quarterly reports to see how we were progressing. He’s as honest as the day is long. The mark of the guy is that he is also well respected by his peers.”

El Segundo Finance Director Jose Sanchez, who currently serves as chairman of the South Bay section of the Southern California chapter of the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers, said Dundore is one of the “gurus” of his group.

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“We hold Bill in high regard and deeply respect him,” said Sanchez, who has been in El Segundo for four years, and in government financing for 15 years. He called Dundore a “great role model.”

Tenure Proves Worth

“In this business we have a tendency to move from city to city,” he said. “That Bill has been able to stay in Torrance for so long is indicative of the fine job he has done there, especially with all the changes, such as Proposition 13 and Proposition 4, that have gone on.”

While Dundore accepts some of the credit for the city’s solvency, he said a lot of it has been timing. Torrance was originally designed to be balanced between commercial and residential developments and seemingly has always had vacant land on which to build. Even now, a recycling of industrial land on the city’s east side promises to add to the tax base.

He said the city also was in luck when voters in 1979 approved the Gann initiative, Proposition 4, limiting municipal and state spending to what was spent in 1978-79, adjusted annually for inflation and population shifts. That year, Torrance had several capital improvement projects under way and was given a much higher than normal maximum spending limit as its base. While most cities are at their limit or nearing it, Torrance is still more than $9 million away.

Dundore said his successor will inherit a well-balanced city with a promising, strong economy.

Growing Tax Base

“You walk around and you see all the buildings going up, and you see all the jobs that will come from that,” he said. “That’s good for the city’s tax base.”

He said if inflation stays at 4% or 5%, the city will be in even better shape financially. He said he hopes voters this year will approve ballot measures that would allow cities to once again issue general obligation bonds and one that would make cities’ shares of state vehicle registrations fees permanent. Currently, the state legislature decides how much, if any, of those fees are distributed to cities.

After all those years of plowing through city budgets, Dundore said he has no regrets about not entering the private sector.

“The city has been a good employer,” he said. “I’ve worked with good people and the city has a good retirement plan. I sometimes have thought about what it would have been like to work in private industry. But I look at some of the controllers of plants around here, and I feel that I have had more say about what happens in the city financially than they probably have had in their companies.”


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