Voters will be asked in November to approve a tax on their monthly telephone bills to pay for more police protection.
The ballot measure, approved Tuesday night by the City Council, would raise an estimated $1 million the first year by imposing a tax of up to $7 a month on phone bills. The money would be used to hire 10 new police officers and five civilian workers, and to buy two squad cars and other equipment, officials said.
A majority of voters would have to approve the proposal.
"The alternative to the tax would be to reduce police service," retiring South Gate Police Chief Norman Phillips told the council.
Phillips said his 87-officer police department is "severely understaffed" to handle crime in the industrial, working-class community. He pointed out that five positions in the department were eliminated last year because of budget cuts.
Phillips described his concerns in a 35-page report to the council. He said in a cover letter that he expected crime to "increase significantly by year's end."
The report pointed out that major crimes fell 12% last year. This year, however, the number of major crimes has almost matched the total for all of 1987, the report added.
The police force has been reduced while the population has grown over the last 16 years, Phillips said.
In 1972, there were 97 officers to handle crime in a community of 57,000. Now, there are 87 officers in a community of 79,000.
After debating the issue for two days, the council approved the ballot issue by a unanimous vote.
Charge on All Calls
If passed by a majority of voters, the tax would impose a charge on all calls placed within the state. The charge would be 15% of the in-state phone bill, or a maximum of $7, for a private resident. The tax would apply to only one phone per residence. But businesses will pay the tax on each phone line, according to City Atty. Bruce Boogaard, who wrote the proposal.
Officials estimate that there are 19,000 households and 3,000 businesses in the city.
The proposal calls for a lower tax for the elderly, the handicapped and those with low-incomes. For example, residents who have an annual income of less than $20,000 would be asked to pay a maximum of $2 each month.
Henry C. Gonzalez, former city councilman, said during a public hearing Tuesday that he would support the proposed initiative but predicted "it probably won't pass because the feeling will be you (council) will try and subsidize the general fund."
Boogaard pointed out, however, that the council wrote some safeguards into the proposal to make sure the money is used for police services only.
Although all council members said they supported additional revenues for the Police Department, Councilwoman Dorothea Lombardo said she was voting for the proposal "under protest."
"I have some misgivings about this. I know that the police need money. (However) I know the community will find it hard to vote the money (to tax themselves)," Lombardo said.
Lombardo said she had proposed cutting 5% from all city departments during a budget hearing earlier this year and giving it to the police force. Her suggestion "didn't go anywhere," she added.
Vice Mayor Robert Philipp said the proposal will allow voters "to tell us what level of police service they want."
An option, Philipp said, would be to contract with the Sheriff's Department.
"It is cheaper but many (residents) don't want it because of the experiences other cities have had with the sheriff," Philipp said.
The police budget is now $8.5 million, 51% of the total city budget of $16 million, City Administrator Bruce Spragg said.
Spragg announced Wednesday that Capt. Ronald P. George, a 21-year veteran of the Police Department, has been selected to succeed Phillips as chief. The appointment will take effect Sept. 16.
George said he also supports the proposed tax.
"We do not have enough people to keep up with the (crime) demand. That's the No. 1 priority now," he said in an interview.
George, 42, heads the department's service division, which includes the detective bureau. He has a master's degree in public communications and a bachelor's degree in public management from Pepperdine University.
George is married and has five grown children. He and his wife, Diana, live in La Palma.
Meanwhile, the council voted Tuesday to spend $153,000 in new revenues from the state to hire two new police officers and two new civilian personnel. The money came from the state's motor vehicle fees.
The new employees would replace four police officers who are off duty because of injuries suffered in automobile crashes while chasing suspects.