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Advocates of Cityhood for Calabasas Say It All Adds Up

Times Staff Writer

Armed with new figures and new hope, advocates of incorporation for Calabasas claimed victory Thursday in their three-year effort to show that the new city would be self-sufficient.

Cityhood backers said their review of Los Angeles County budget figures shows that the proposed city, now calculated to total about 10 square miles, could end up with a $2.7-million cash surplus its first year. Some county officials have predicted a budget deficit of nearly $1 million.

Cityhood leaders said the new figures assure a city income of at least $3 million and expenses of only $1.8 million. There is a chance that another $1.5 million in revenues also can be obtained, they said.

The forecast of a deficit came in an analysis issued last month by officials of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees incorporation efforts in the county. It forecast revenues of $2.9 million against expenditures of $3.8 million.

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“We found multiple discrepancies” in that analysis, said Dennis Washburn, a vice president for the Calabasas cityhood study committee. “Some expenditure items had been counted twice. Some revenue figures had been omitted.”

Committee members said they will supply the new budget figures to LAFCO, whose members are to decide Feb. 25 whether to allow a June 7 incorporation election.

The new budget analysis was discounted late Thursday by Ruth Benell, LAFCO’s executive officer and chief author of last month’s cityhood financial report.

“I personally don’t think they’re financially viable,” she said. “I have confidence in the figures I’ve been giving.”

Benell denied counting costs twice or overlooking expenditures. She said she feels the committee’s new budget conclusions are incorrect--and said she will urge commissioners to ignore them Feb. 25.

Claims of Overbilling

According to cityhood backers, however, Benell incorrectly double-billed Sheriff’s Department overhead costs, creating a $387,641 error. They said her budget overbilled general expenses by $90,000 and failed to include $105,000 in federal revenues.

They said the new city would also be guaranteed a $675,800 reduction in wild-lands firefighting costs by a legal opinion that backs the constitutionality of a brush-fire protection law. That law is the subject of a lawsuit and temporary restraining order issued last Friday.

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According to Washburn, the committee will ask county officials to recompute the percentage of property tax the new city would get. He said cityhood backers have calculated that the city should receive about $2 million instead of the $521,000 specified in Benell’s budget document.

Washburn was particularly critical of the sheriff’s overhead figures. “If I made a $387,000 mistake in the advertising field where I work, I’d be fired, if not sued,” he said.

Benell said she relied on the Sheriff’s Department for her figures. “They have not indicated to me that the figures they submitted are wrong,” she said.

She said the committee’s independent research hasn’t convinced her to change her mind about cityhood for Calabasas.

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“I’ve recommended denial from day one,” Benell said. “I still do.”

The committee also has concluded that its proposed city would total about 10 square miles, instead of the 11 square miles estimated by county officials after complicated boundary revisions were made in November.


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