When members of the Pomona City Council's new majority proposed two months ago to boost spending for police and fire protection by $4.6 million, their colleagues were incredulous. How, they asked, could the city increase the budgets of two departments without decimating other city services?
The majority answered that question Monday night, approving an amended $68.3-million budget that includes all the promised spending increases to fight crime and fires, with no significant budget cuts. The budget will be balanced with the help of $2.7 million in new revenue, including a system of taxes and fees charged to developers.
"In my view, this is a pragmatic way of dealing with what the people have been clamoring for," said Councilman Tomas Ursua, who joined colleagues Nell Soto and C. L. (Clay) Bryant to create the new majority in April. "I think we've done a good job."
That assessment was not shared by Councilman Mark Nymeyer, who opposed both the budget proposal and the taxes and fees on development. "I think we took a syringe, drew some blood out of the public and put that in the budget," he said.
Nymeyer Explains Opposition
Nymeyer noted that members of the new majority had promised to find the additional money for police without raising taxes. The money would be found, they said, by cutting the fat in the city bureaucracy.
But after eliminating three top-level positions in the city administration, the council sheathed its budget ax and concentrated on ways to raise more revenue.
"They got weak," Nymeyer said. "They found there wasn't as much fat in City Hall as they thought there was. . . . This City Council didn't cut at all. In fact, they raised $2.9 million in taxes. That $2.9 million, folks, is coming out of your pocket. Don't be deceived."
Soto responded angrily to Nymeyer's criticism.
"I just want to ask Councilman Nymeyer if he has a better idea," she said. "If someone has a better idea, they should bring it to the table. . . . I think we should remember that Councilman Nymeyer is running for the Assembly."
'Revenue Sources,' Not Taxes
City Finance Director Roberta Smith said Nymeyer's statement that the council was imposing $2.9 million in new taxes was not completely accurate. Smith said the budget she proposed to the council included $2.9 million in "newly identified revenue sources," many of which did not involve new taxes. The figure included $200,000 in fines from a Fire Department building inspection program that was deleted from the budget Monday night.
The largest new revenue source is a 1% tax on the construction of all single-family homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities and a 2% tax on the development of apartments and condominiums. The tax is expected to generate $825,000 for the general fund, which the council may spend as it chooses.
The council also enacted or raised several developer fees, which will bring in an estimated $1.2 million a year to pay for parks, public safety, road construction and traffic control. The fee revenue must be spent on the service for which it was collected and may not be used to pay salaries.
Mayor Donna Smith joined the new majority in supporting the development fees and taxes. The mayor said she had spoken with representatives of the building industry who said the proposed charges were not out of line with those in other cities.
Hike in Building Fees
Nymeyer was the lone opponent to the developer charges. He noted that developers, who currently pay $1,500 in planning and permit fees to build a house, must now pay an additional $1,600 in fees and taxes.
"The bottom line is we just doubled the price of building a single-family home," Nymeyer said. "Tom (Ursua) has said he's in favor of affordable housing. That doesn't sound very affordable to me."
To balance its budget, the council will also borrow $744,000 from previous years' reserves, receive $572,000 in franchise fees from the city water and sanitation departments and $370,000 in debt repayment from the sanitation district.
With a $2.6 million increase in its budget, the Police Department will be able to hire and train 19 new patrol officers and purchase all necessary equipment for them, including five new squad cars, said Police Chief Richard Tefank. The department will also hire seven "civilian" officers to handle routine investigations, freeing sworn officers to answer emergency calls, he said.
New Engine Company
The Fire Department will use its $2 million increase to create a new engine company for north Pomona and a hazardous materials response team. Both the Police and Fire department will have its own dispatching system, because the council has eliminated the communications department, which handled 911 calls. That means calls will go directly to the Police Department, which will transfer fire calls.
But, despite her support for the new developer charges, Smith voted against the budget package. Specifically, Smith said she was bothered by the council's decision to redirect $180,000 in revenue from a business license surcharge to the general fund, instead of to the Pomona Economic Development Corp. The mayor also criticized the elimination of the three positions from the budget.
"I definitely support additional police, and I on more than one occasion have championed that cause," Smith said. "I'd like to move forward so we can get on with business, but I can't vote for it. I'm not happy with how we got to this budget."
Bryant brushed aside these objections. "It comes down to: 'Do we want cops on our streets or dead wood in City Hall?' " he said.