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Tight $1-Billion L.B. Budget Asks Cuts in Police, Fire, Park Services

Times Staff Writer

City Manager James C. Hankla has unveiled the tightest municipal budget in a decade, an austere $1.1-billion plan that would raise fees and taxes while cutting services slightly if approved by the City Council next month.

The city must reduce overall spending by $90 million to balance its 1987-88 budget because past surpluses are nearly depleted, oil and federal money are down sharply and property and sales tax income has not increased as expected, Hankla said.

“This is a mid-course correction bringing us back to the basics,” said the city manager, projecting at least two years of belt tightening.

No layoffs are anticipated, Hankla said. But his fiscal plan calls for small spending cuts in basic services such as street maintenance, libraries, police and fire protection, recreation programs and parks. It would also delay several building projects.

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Additionally, the plan would hike city fees on electric bills by 2%, increase hotel room taxes from 7% to 10% and raise the surcharge paid by cable television users.

Hankla is also asking the City Council, which will consider his budget June 9, to raise garbage-collection fees from $7.72 to $8.80 a month and to increase charges for use of marina slips and city ambulances.

Traditional Services Hard Hit

Perhaps hardest hit by the cuts would be traditional city services, those paid for by the city’s general fund, over which the council has its greatest control.

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The council has little control over the bulk of the budget, however, since about $850 million is tied up in self-supporting city agencies such as the Gas and Water departments, refuse collection services, the airport and the harbor.

According to Hankla, general-fund spending should be reduced by 11.7%, from the $270 million budgeted this year to $239 million for the year beginning July 1. The public safety departments, health services and public works are covered by this budget.

In some cases, Hankla said, the cost cutting will hardly be noticed because of savings implemented by former City Manager John Dever last November and Hankla since he took over March 1. Those measures will reduce actual spending this year by $22 million, Hankla said.

For example, the Police Department budget would drop from this year’s budgeted $77.7 million to $75.6 million as 15 jobs are cut and overtime reduced sharply. But four more officers will actually be in uniform next year because of unfilled positions in the current police budget, Hankla said.

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Similarly, proposed closure of a fire station at Palo Verde Avenue and Willow Street will eliminate 14 firefighter jobs, but affected employees will be shifted to vacant positions elsewhere.

Probably more noticeable--and controversial--would be a citywide reduction in the hours park recreation centers are operated. Hankla said the reduction would be minor but could not say what the new hours would be.

As the new city manager presented his first budget at a press conference Thursday, some City Council members were already saying they would like to see changes.

Councilman Ray Grabinski said he does not want staffing at recreation centers reduced because idle youngsters are potential criminals. “There’s going to be a lot of struggle on that one, especially from me,” Grabinski said.

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Wants to Hear More

Councilman Warren Harwood said he wants to hear more about Hankla’s proposed cut in hours at the Houghton Park Senior Center in his council district.

And Mayor Ernie Kell said of the closure of the Palo Verde Avenue fire station, which Hankla said would save $1 million: “I would have a difficult time with that. . . . I think the Fire Department will come up with something more creative than that.”

But Hankla’s proposal that all Tidelands Agency programs be absorbed by other city departments drew council support. The agency administers lifeguard and marine patrol services and manages beachfront public lands and oil-producing properties.

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Hankla said he wants to dissolve the agency so 11 administrative positions can be eliminated, saving perhaps $400,000 next year and more thereafter. Two of the agency’s most important responsibilities--management of the Queen Mary lease and Convention Center operations--were transferred elsewhere years ago, he said.

Hankla said he will attempt to shift Tidelands administrators, including $94,000-a-year General Manager Carolyn Sutter, into existing postions in other departments.

Faces Transition Period

Sutter will be transferred into the city manager’s office for about six months during a transition period, Hankla said. But he said he had not yet considered whether she might be able to find an equivalent position with the city.

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Councilman Edd Tuttle said he recommended dissolution of the Tidelands Agency to Hankla.

“There has been a lot of concern about the Tidelands Agency, about how that department has been administered,” said Tuttle, who declined to be specific.

Sutter could not be reached for comment. But Kell said Sutter has done a good job with Tidelands. “This is no reflection on Carolyn Sutter,” he said.

The tight budget comes as no surprise. When former manager Dever proposed his 1986-87 budget last May, he said it would eat up all but $3.9 million of the general fund’s $28.7-million surplus.

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But he foresaw an increase in sales tax revenues that never happened. And despite a higher price of oil worldwide, the city’s revenue from oil production will fall from $4.3 million to $3.5 million this year, recent estimates indicate. Since 1983, oil revenue has dropped $16 million, Hankla said.

The city has also had to absorb a $6.7-million cut in federal revenue sharing funds since 1985, he said.

Revenues Fell Short

By November, general-fund revenues were well below expectations, and Dever imposed a 4% spending reduction on all departments to avoid a $10-million shortfall, Hankla said.

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Hankla has cut another $4.8 million out of the budget since he arrived 2 1/2 months ago, delaying a $2.1-million improvement of the Fire Department’s communication center, a $1.4-million refurbishment of the police station and a $1.3-million citywide tree-planting program. He also collected about $3 million due the general fund from other city agencies.

For next year, Hankla’s budget would avoid a potential $30-million general-fund deficit by delaying $4.1 million in building and maintenance projects, imposing 2% budget reductions on all general-fund departments and generating $6.5 million with new fees and taxes.

The remaining $15.6 million would come in part from a $4.3-million loan from the Employee Benefits Fund and $5 million saved by filling job vacancies with workers of lower salary.

As a general rule, any increase in service must be self-supporting or paid for by state or federal grants, Hankla said. Such special funding will provide new health services, a beefed-up drug investigations unit, better parking controls and more fee-supported recreation programs, according to the budget.

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Hankla said he is optimistic that property tax revenues will rise sharply this year as the county assessor gets new construction from a current residential and commercial building boom onto the tax roles.

The city manager projects a $9.7-million general fund surplus on July 1, and a $2.5-million surplus in July, 1988.

PROPOSED BUDGET--WHAT WOULD GO UP, DOWN

Fire

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Last Year

$39.7 Million

This Year

$44.4 Million

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Next Year

$43.5 Million

The Fire Department would close one station. Staffing would drop by 11, but no layoffs would be needed because of existing vacancies.

Health

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Last Year

$8.1 Million

This Year

$9.1 Million

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Next Year

$9.8 Million

The budget includes money for new AIDS assistance program. One animal control position would be cut.

Libraries

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Last Year

$9.6 Million

This Year

$11.2 Million

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Next Year

$10.8 Million

About $280,000 would be saved by a citywide reduction in staff and fewer equipment purchases for Telecommunications Bureau.

Police

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Last Year

$69 Million

This Year

$77.7 Million

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Next Year

$75.6 Million

The Police Department, the city’s largest, will save $1.45 million by cutting 15 positions and reducing overtime 23%. Ranks of sworn officers will increase by 4 to 656. State grants will pay for new anti-drug unit.

Public Works

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Last Year

$58.8 Million

This Year

$68.7 Million

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Next Year

$69.1 Million

About $500,000 will be saved by reducing street slurry-seal program, eliminating 10 maintenance jobs and cutting 5,000 hours from part-time maintenance budget.

Parks and Recreation

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Last Year

$19.6 Million

This Year

$20.9 Million

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Next Year

$19.6 Million

Some $280,000 will be saved by cutting 3 park maintenance jobs. Cuts will come in duration and staffing at municipal band concerts, and in supervision at 9 parks. Part-time workers will be cut from 224 to 178.


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