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10% Increase in Refuse Hauler’s Fee Is Approved in Hawthorne

Times Staff Writer

In an attempt to help resolve a $2.5-million budget deficit, the Hawthorne City Council has approved a plan to raise the city refuse contractor’s franchise fee 10%, with the cost to be passed on to city residents and businesses.

The council differed sharply over the plan last week, and finally voted 3 to 1 to increase the fee for one year.

Mayor Betty J. Ainsworth, Councilman Charles Bookhammer and Councilman Steven Andersen supported the revenue-raising measure, while Councilwoman Ginny M. Lambert blasted the plan as a thinly disguised tax imposed without the necessary voter approval.

“Essentially this city is disenfranchised,” Lambert contended, noting that the fee increase was handled without a public hearing even though residents will end up footing the bill.

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Represented by Council

Andersen bristled at Lambert’s comment and called it “a flat misstatement.” He said the public is represented by its elected City Council: “They have the vote of the people who sit up here. That is their voice. We can be removed if we are not their voice.”

The increased fee, effective retroactively to July 1, will raise the city’s revenue by $550,000, helping to offset its $2.5-million deficit for 1989-90, City Manager R. Kenneth Jue said in an interview Friday.

The increase will raise the average household’s monthly refuse bill to $10.45 from the current $9.40, placing it “right in the ballpark” for refuse fees in neighboring cities, Jue said.

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Jue said the city is searching for ways to provide additional funds to replace two sources of revenue--paramedic fees and sales taxes--that have fallen short of expectations.

If revenues are not increased, the city may have to lay off as many as 32 employees and close one fire station to balance the $44.8-million budget, Jue said. A budget hearing is scheduled Aug. 21.

At Monday’s council meeting, Lambert attacked the franchise fee increase, saying that it amounted to a new tax that, by law, should have been subject to a citywide vote. Proposition 62, a ballot measure enacted by state voters in November, 1986, bars cities from enacting new taxes without voter approval.

Lambert pressed for a delay on the council vote, saying that the issue was handled hurriedly, without proper public notice. City officials said the issue needed to be resolved quickly to meet a Los Angeles County deadline for information to be included on county property tax bills.

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Increase Passed On

She noted that the item on Monday’s council agenda made no mention that the increased franchise fee would be passed on to city residents and businesses. Lambert said that the language of the measure should be changed to spell out that the increase will be passed along.

Under close questioning by Lambert, City Atty. Michael Adamson said that the city has to word the measure carefully. The city has a binding contract with H & C Disposal Co. that cannot be changed without the consent of the contractor. H & C would be unlikely to agree to the 10% increase unless it could be passed through to customers, he said.

Also, he made it clear that the city does not want to word the measure so that it becomes a tax subject to voter approval. “If you impose the fee on citizens directly, you probably have a contract violation. And you also have a tax,” said Adamson.

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“That’s exactly my point,” retorted Lambert.

Controversy Not New

Controversy over the city’s refuse collection system is not new. In 1984-85, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury conducted an investigation of Hawthorne city government and recommended that the city seek bids on the contract. H & C has hauled the city’s trash since 1957, and the city has never sought competitive bids.

In March, without competitive bids, the City Council voted 3-2 to give H & C a five-year extension on its contract. Andersen, who voted for the added five years, said the company has earned the extension because of its good service.

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But Lambert, who voted with Ainsworth against the extension, questioned the long-term contract and the recent extension. “I don’t think we have done right by our constituents,” she said at the time.


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