Hawthorne Increases Fees, Avoids 32 Worker Layoffs

Times Staff Writer

Averting as many as 32 layoffs, the Hawthorne City Council has increased numerous municipal fees to offset a $2.5-million deficit in the city's 1989-90 budget.

The increases will raise nearly $800,000 and will help the city achieve a $44.6-million balanced budget for the current fiscal year, according to City Manager R. Kenneth Jue.

The remainder of the deficit will come from several sources, including:

* $165,000 in further cutbacks by the city manager, including cutting one full-time position to half time and eliminating the risk manager's position, which is vacant.

* $550,000 from a recent increase in the franchise fee for trash collection

* $512,000 from Northrop Corp. for back sales taxes from 1983-85, a delinquency detected by a state audit.

* Partial repayment of as much as $1.5 million of a city loan used by the Redevelopment Agency to build the Hawthorne Plaza shopping center.

Any excess funds will be added to the city's $1-million reserves.

Some Fees to Double

Under a series of 11 resolutions approved Monday by the City Council, city fees will double for some services, including zone-change applications, and will increase 30% for others, including building permits.

The increases will bring Hawthorne fees up to the average prevailing in surrounding cities, Jue said.

Because of the new revenues, no layoffs will be necessary, Jue said after Monday's marathon five-hour budget session. Last month, Jue had said that as many as 32 layoffs might be needed to make up the budget deficit and that one of the city's fire stations, near the Holly Glen residential neighborhood, might have to be closed.

In a July 7 budget message, Jue told the council that the city's budget was in serious trouble because two major sources of expected income failed to materialize. The city received $1.1 million less in sales tax revenues and paramedic fees than had been projected in 1988-89, and an equal shortfall is expected for 1989-90, Jue said.

A $300,000 expenditure for hiring five police officers made up the rest of the deficit, Jue said. The hiring of the officers, who will be assigned to traffic law enforcement, was retained in the budget adopted Monday by the City Council.

Hundreds of Fees Affected

The council voted unanimously on a long list of fee increases in numerous departments, including building, planning, engineering, police, airport and recreation. Hundreds of fees will be affected.

During the public hearing, City Council candidate Raymon Sulser talked for 1 1/2 hours about the budget, challenging expenditures line by line and proposing that the city close its youth camp, which he described as a frill.

Several other members of the public, including Councilman Steve Andersen's mother, Dorothy Andersen, were upset at Sulser's suggestion on cutting back the youth camp. "If you only knew how hard we worked to get those things," she admonished Sulser, urging that the council not cut back on recreation programs.

Sulser also said the city could save $2 million a year by contracting with the county for fire services rather than having its own department. But Fire Chief Roger Milstead said the county could not provide cheaper services because its salaries are higher than the city's across the board, from firefighter to fire chief.

Contention Repeated

Sulser on Monday repeated his contention that last fall's increase in the city's water fees was a violation of Proposition 13. That measure and the subsequent Proposition 62 barred cities from imposing new taxes without approval by a two-thirds' majority of city voters. Cities can, however, pass on to the public the cost of providing city services.

Councilman Andersen, a real estate attorney, disputed Sulser's claim about the legality of the increase. He asked for a memorandum from the city attorney's office on the legality of the city's water and trash collection fees. He said he believes the city is on solid legal ground, and said to Sulser: "If you're convinced you're right, why don't you file a taxpayer's suit?"

"Who's going to pay for it?" Sulser retorted.

Meanwhile, the council introduced a new ordinance that would increase minimum monthly water fees by about $2 a month, to $5 for residential customers. Customers also pay fees based on the amount of water used. The council is expected to vote on the water increase at its next meeting Monday.

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