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Police Tax Vote: Green Light for Inglewood, Red for Hawthorne

Times Staff Writers

Hawthorne officials vowed Wednesday to search for ways to pay for expanding the Police Department after voters resoundingly rejected the police tax measure, Proposition V.

In neighboring Inglewood, by contrast, voters gave overwhelming support to advisory measure Proposition BB, and that is likely to prompt the City Council to establish a police benefit assessment district, officials said. Council members had said they would levy fees to raise $1.4 million to hire and equip 20 police officers if a majority of voters favored the plan.

Inglewood Councilman Anthony Scardenzan, a longtime proponent of more police, was jubilant Wednesday morning at the 4-to-1 margin for the measure. Inglewood voters “showed intelligence, care and concern about the future of our city and schools,” he said. “I want those cops on the streets fighting gangs and drugs as soon as possible.”

Scardenzan said he hopes the council will move quickly to approve the assessment district, which could go before the council in a month. Because July 1--the beginning of the next fiscal year--is the soonest the district could begin functioning, it could be next summer before the 20 officers are hired, officials said. City officials could hire the officers sooner if an interim source of funds is found, they said.

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The Inglewood plan would cost single-family homeowners $45 a year. Apartment owners would be charged on a sliding scale with a base fee of $53 a unit, while commercial properties would pay based on frontage.

While Inglewood residents showed their support of spending more money for police protection, in Hawthorne 60.4% of voters rejected a measure that would have raised $2 million a year to hire and equip 19 police officers and additional civilian support staff.

The Hawthorne measure would have cost each household about $45 a year, with proportionally larger fees for businesses. Proposition V--a tax on utility fees--failed to get a simple majority of the vote, and it needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

By contrast, Inglewood’s plan to create a police benefit assessment district is a way around the state requirement that two-thirds of voters approve additional taxes. By creating the assessment district, the city is charging residents and businesses a fee for additional police services.

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Paramedic Tax Rejected

This is the second year in a row that Hawthorne voters have rejected a tax increase. In 1987, 52% of voters approved a tax for additional paramedic service, but the measure failed because it needed a two-thirds majority. That tax would have cost a single-family property owner $14 a year.

Hawthorne Mayor Betty J. Ainsworth, who along with the entire City Council supported the police tax, said Wednesday that the city will have to face the fact that Hawthorne voters are loath to approve higher taxes. It is “nearly impossible” to get the necessary two-thirds majority, she said.

Ainsworth said she plans to set up a police funding task force to consider ideas such as creating an assessment district. “We do need additional police officers,” she said. “I hope that people in industry, the community and the staff can work together to come up with more ideas.”

Councilman Charles Bookhammer, who wrote the ballot argument in favor of Proposition V, said: “I really think the people are going to feel this one. . . . (The Police Department) is going to have to move more officers from crime and drug details back into traffic (duties).”

Upswing in Crime

Police Chief Kenneth R. Stonebraker said the city needs more police officers to deal with an increase in population and an upswing in gang- and drug-related crime. Hawthorne has 1.27 officers for each 1,000 residents, compared to an average of 1.55 per 1,000 residents in nine other South Bay cities, he said.

Inglewood now has 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents, and with the addition to its force will have 2 officers per 1,000 residents.

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Opponents, including former Planning Commissioner Ramon (Sulser, said that instead of increasing taxes, the city should eliminate “unnecessary” expenses. He was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the Inglewood City Council discussed, then rejected, the idea of a parcel tax to pay for more police. That plan would have required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The council then hit upon the plan for a police benefit assessment district, but because residents objected at a public hearing in June, the council decided seek an advisory vote. The entire council urged a yes vote.

Although Inglewood’s Proposition BB received wide voter support, it was opposed by a small group of activists in the United Democratic Club of Inglewood. Opponents said police funds should come from budget cuts rather than from increased taxes.


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