Montebello Restores 7 Police, Fire Positions

Times Staff Writer

Responding to public concern, the City Council voted 3-2 to reinstate the positions of six police officers and one firefighter Monday night and then approved a $45.8-million budget for 1987-88.

The seven police and fire positions were to have been eliminated, along with five others, in a cost-cutting measure tentatively approved by the council in June, also on a 3-2 vote.

"We heard from the residents," said Mayor Arnold M. Glasman. "They thought they were going to have reduced police and fire service."

Glasman and Councilmen William Nighswonger and Art Payan had initially voted for the cuts, but reversed themselves on the seven positions.

Little Impact Seen

Police Chief Leslie D. Sourisseau said dropping the police positions would have had little impact on public safety. He said the department has two vacancies and would have eliminated those positions and four others through attrition. Capt. Steve Simonian said officers would have worked overtime if necessary to maintain adequate police protection.

The six positions provided overlapping patrol and extra detective coverage, Sourisseau said.

"The net effect (if the positions had been cut) is nothing, but it's not to say we shouldn't have them," he said.

The city anticipates spending 10.9% more than the estimated $41.3 million it spent last fiscal year, but most of the increase is earmarked for capital improvements such as resurfacing streets and remodeling city buildings. The city plans to spend $7.1 million on such improvements this year compared to $4 million last year. Most of the money for capital improvements comes from restricted funds and cannot be spent in other ways.

Reserves Dwindling

The city still must cut $722,000 in expenditures from its general fund, which pays for basic city services such as police and fire protection, to remain within the $45.8-million budget. Even then, the city will spend $1.8 million more from the general fund than it will receive in revenue this year, said City Administrator Joseph M. Goeden. At that rate, he said, the city's reserve funds will be depleted in three years.

Goeden had proposed cutting 12 positions, including the seven restored Monday, to save about $500,000.

The council chose not to restore an eighth position--that of a fire marshal--and stuck to a decision to delay construction on a fire station in the southern part of the city. Councilmen William M. Molinari and Edward C. Pizzorno voted against the budget after attempting to add those items.

Earlier Monday, the council voted 3-2 to approve expansion of a restaurant and dance club on city property and to spend $1.1 million on a parking lot to accommodate the expansion.

Molinari, who voted against the project with Pizzorno, lashed out at council members who voted to spend city money to build the parking lot while putting the new fire station on hold.

"I just can't see if you have discretionary money to spend that you put anything over public safety," Molinari said. "A disco bar does not fall into that category."

Montebello Fire Chief Robert J. King told the council that a new station is needed but that the old station at Date Street and Greenwood Avenue, built in 1944, is still usable for "a few years."

The city recently moved a trailer there to provide better living conditions for the three firefighters on duty at any given time.

King said one of the Fire Department's battalion chiefs will double as the fire marshal, whose main duty is inspecting buildings. The former fire marshal, Capt. Donald Duncan, will be reassigned or retire.

Inspections might get done "a day or two later," King said. "There will be a reduction in services, but it's something we can live with."

Besides the fire marshal's post, four positions in the city's Departments of Finance and Parks and Recreation were eliminated. Along with reductions in purchasing supplies and other items, this saved $386,000 of the $722,000 the council needed to cut.

Additional Cuts

The council directed Goeden to recommend additional budget cuts to offset the $336,000 the reinstated positions will cost the city. Goeden said other personnel cuts will be considered.

The proposal to expand the Quiet Cannon restaurant and dance club figured in Monday night's budget deliberations. The city owns the facility and leases it to a corporate operator, Quiet Cannon Montebello.

The council approved the $1.1 million to build a 350-space parking lot for the club and extended by 20 years the 25-year lease agreement signed in 1978.

More than 100 people filled the council chambers as city officials, businessmen and residents spoke for and against the expansion. A new restaurant and enlarged cocktail lounge, dance and banquet facilities are planned at a cost of $2.5 million, said Quiet Cannon spokesman David Parrin.

'Fine Restaurant'

Eight people urged the council to approve the expansion, saying it would bring a "fine restaurant" to Montebello and increase the value of the property, which the city will control once the lease expires.

Quiet Cannon and city officials said the expansion will attract business and bring Montebello an additional $200,000 a year in lease and tax revenue, Goeden said.

But opponents said the expansion would also bring more traffic, noise and rowdy youths into surrounding residential neighborhoods. Molinari has long opposed expanding the Quiet Cannon, saying it is a public nuisance.

Safety issues aside, Goeden said, Montebello must pursue investments, such as the restaurant expansion, that will help the city weather financial hardship brought on by lost revenue and mounting expenses.

Federal Aid Gone

Montebello received about $1 million a year in federal revenue sharing money before Congress eliminated the program last year, Goeden said. Also, the council voted to eliminate Montebello's utility tax beginning in 1986-87; it generated $1.4 million a year.

Meanwhile, city employees this year received an average raise of 3.5%. Coupled with higher costs for benefits such as health insurance, this will cost Montebello about $600,000, Goeden said.

The general fund reserve was $1.1 million on June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Next year, the reserve is expected to be only $494,900.

The city has been overspending for several years, drawing from leftover revenue sharing funds and other reserves to pay its bills. During 1987-88, for example, more than $2 million will be taken from revenue sharing and state gas tax funds, leaving those funds with a balance of about $4 million.

"If we continue to spend $2 million more than we continue to bring in, those reserves will be gone in two years, and then we'll be in a real serious bind," Goeden said.

The city has been operating at 1986-87 spending levels since it approved an interim budget in June.

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