West Covina Remains in Limbo on Public Works Backlog

Times Staff Writer

Despite pleas to “bite the bullet” and stop waffling, the City Council postponed a decision on how to fund a $34-million backlog in public works improvements.

At a special meeting on Monday, the City Council backed away from deciding on any action, which could include imposing new taxes. The council’s only decisive action was to direct city staff to avoid any decrease in existing services.

Since September, the city has been considering a proposal to institute a politically unpleasant utility tax or a special assessment district to foot the bill for improvements ranging from street repairs to storm drain work. The proposal was made by a 25-member citizens committee, which assessed the city’s capital needs and the means of meeting them.


‘A Little Shocked’

“I’m a little shocked by the shortsightedness,” committee member Tom Lorincz told the council in criticizing its discussion.

“Why did the committee sit there for 18 months?” he asked in an interview. The council is “not going to find anything we didn’t look at.”

Either of the committee’s funding alteratives would have to be approved by residents. The utility tax would need a majority vote, and the assessment district would require two-thirds approval.

Mayor Robert L. Bacon said he agrees with the committee’s conclusion, but added that the prospect of a new tax or assessment district succeeding at the polls is nil without strong support from council members.

Unanimous Support Needed

“The other council members were apparently afraid of proceeding,” Bacon said. “Without unanimous council support, it will divide the vote so much it won’t pass.”

Bacon predicted that the council will continue to grapple with the issue until a majority comes to the same conclusion.


Councilman William Tarozzi, who advocated cutting the city budget to pay for a reduced amount of capital repairs, predicted that a utility tax would never be approved by voters.

In a voluminous report, the citizens committee recommended levying a 3 1/4% tax on the estimated $97 million in annual sales of electricity, natural gas, telephone service and cable television subscriptions. At that rate, the tax would raise $3.17 million annually over its proposed 15-year life, according to the committee report. The estimated weekly household cost would be $5.

The assessment district was the committee’s secondary recommendation because of limits on its use and the two-thirds approval needed at the polls.

In a presentation to the council, City Manager Herman R. Fast compared the city’s financial situation to that of several surrounding communities of similar size. The conclusion, according to Fast’s staff, was that West Covina is an efficient city, saddled with a small tax base and a large proportion of residential development.

For example, West Covina has 43.9 staff members per 10,000 residents; Covina, a city half the size, has 44.9 and Pomona, which is slightly larger, has 61.9, Fast said.

Fast recommended that the council pursue either the utility tax or the assessment district, and that the city resist making budgetary cuts, which he said would erode the quality of life for West Covina residents.


Bacon said it was unrealistic to think that the city can accomplish the repairs without finding a new revenue source. “I don’t think there’s a lot of fat in the budget; we’re a well-run city.”

‘Lean and Mean’ Budget

Although saying that the city budget was already “lean and mean,” Councilwoman Nancy Manners advocated cutting back on council stipends and other minor expenditures before “we ask (the public) to approve something that we don’t even agree on.”

Councilman Richard Lewis proposed that service not be cut to fund the capital improvements. Tarozzi was the only council member to vote against the motion.

Tarozzi suggested paring back or postponing some of the capital repairs and instituting either a one-year salary freeze or laying off 5% of the 430 municipal employees. Tarozzi’s proposal would have spared the Police and Fire departments and included a 10% cut in operating materials and services.

A wage freeze, however, would violate a three-year agreement the city recently entered with most of its staff and could not happen immediately or without an unlikely concession from employees.

Bacon criticized “Tarozzi’s voodoo economics,” but said “until he either backs off or comes to the realization that we cannot possibly fund these items without some new source of revenues, we’re not going to get (a new tax) passed, and there’s no need to put it on the ballot.”


Councilman Brad McFadden proposed that each department’s budget be cut by 10%, which he said could be implemented through layoffs or operational decreases. He also demanded that developers of the proposed expansion of the Fashion Plaza shopping center give the city $23 million in expected profits to help pay for the improvements.