Two telephone companies are opposing ballot measures that would place a tax on monthly phone bills in South Gate and Lynwood to pay for more police protection, company officials said.
Officials of Pacific Bell and AT & T have complained to officials in both cities that the tax on telephone users would be unfair. Company representatives also have appeared at chamber of commerce meetings in both cities to denounce the measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. The companies may send mailers urging voters to defeat the measures, officials said.
Pacific Bell is the primary local telephone company in both cities and AT & T bills the customers, through Pacific Bell, for intrastate long-distance service.
"These taxes unfairly single out telephone users," said Carolyn Webb de Macias, area vice president of Pacific Bell. The companies also are concerned that customers will consider the tax as a telephone rate increase or view the telephone companies as tax collectors, she said.
Concerned About Customers
"We are not anti-police, but we are concerned about our customers being singled out," said William H. Devine, AT & T director of public affairs.
Pacific Bell suggested that South Gate consider a tax on gas, electricity and telephone users, said Sandra Gaytan, the company's area manager.
South Gate City Atty. Bruce Boogaard defended the telephone tax proposal. "The telephone companies are concerned that we will give them a bad image," said Boogaard, who authored the South Gate ballot measure.
Boogaard said the city opted for a phone bill surcharge because "people with telephones have immediate access to the police. People don't pick up the electric cord to call the police; they use the telephone."
He also pointed out that the city would have to deal with at least 35 utilities if it had decided to propose a general utility user tax.
More than 80 cities in the state have approved similar taxes on utilities, according to the League of California Cities. Long Beach, for example, has taxes on telephones, electricity, gas and water.
South Gate's ballot Proposition NN would impose up to $7 a month on households with telephones, $14 for business accounts and $2 for the elderly and handicapped. The companies would collect the tax and send the revenues to the cities. The City Council would set the fee each year.
The city would raise an estimated $1.4 million the first year to hire 10 new police officers and five civilian workers, and to buy two squad cars and other equipment, officials said.
South Gate Police Chief Ronald George said he and other police officials are campaigning for the proposal. The South Gate Police Assn. and other community supporters have sent about 13,000 mailers encouraging registered voters to approve Proposition NN, and have planned a similar distribution just before the election, he said. George also has spoken to about 20 organizations, he said.
George said his 89-officer department is too small to deal with an increasing gang problem and crime in general. Although the crime rate fell 12% last year, the Police Department's staff has been reduced while the population has increased. Fifteen years ago, there were 97 officers serving a city of 57,000 residents. South Gate's population has surpassed 80,000 today.
Lynwood officials, however, apparently are taking a low-key approach to their ballot measure. "It is on the ballot. We are leaving it up to the voters. They will decide," said Councilwoman Evelyn Wells.
Lynwood's Proposition EE would impose a 10%-a-month tax on all phone bills, which would raise an estimated $1.2 million a year. About 80% of the money would go for public safety, including the Sheriff's Department, which provides police services to the city, and to the Lynwood Fire Department. Low-income elderly and handicapped residents would pay $2 a month.