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Pomona Must Raise Its Taxes or Lay Off 72 : Government: The cutbacks would be the worst since the ‘70s. Many layoffs could be avoided by adopting revenue-increasing measures suggested by a citizens panel.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing revenue shortfalls from the recession, City Administrator Julio Fuentes offered the City Council a choice this week: lay off 72 employees, including 17 police officers, close the city library on Mondays and shut down two fire stations, or raise taxes.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 contains the most drastic cutbacks in city services since the 1970s, when voters mandated property tax reductions through Proposition 13. “The cuts are serious and in some cases severe,” Fuentes said.

In addition to the 72 layoffs, the proposed budget eliminates 40 positions that are currently vacant, reducing the number of full-time city jobs to 741.

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Most of the layoffs could be avoided, Fuentes said, if the council were to adopt revenue measures proposed by the Citizens Advisory Council, which was appointed late last year to look at ways of increasing city revenue.

Noting that it hadn’t looked at expenditures and could not say whether the city should raise taxes, the citizens group recommended that the city restore the utility tax to last year’s levels if more revenue is needed. On Jan. 1, the utility tax was lowered to 9% on telephone service and to 8% for residents and 10% for businesses on other utilities. Another round of reductions is scheduled at the beginning of 1992.

Fuentes said the city could gain $700,000 by scrapping the reductions scheduled for Jan. 1, 1992, and more than $1 million by reverting to the 1990 rates.

Mayor Donna Smith said she would rather raise the utility tax than reduce the police force or close fire stations.

“There is no way I could support laying off policemen,” Smith said. “I don’t think the public will support the closing of two fire stations, and I can’t support the closing of two stations either.”

At a council meeting Tuesday, Smith suggested that in addition to reinstating the 1990 utility tax levels, the city impose other taxes and fees to raise an additional $4 million in new revenue.

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She said her plan would allow the city to avert most of the proposed layoffs and even add to the police force, whose understaffing, she said, is shameful. The council took no action on her suggestions, but will resume its budget review at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Councilman Tomas Ursua said he is not convinced that the options presented by Fuentes are the only ones available.

Ursua said the city needs to improve productivity through innovative means, as private corporations have, and not curtail services. He said the proposed budget slashes the number of front-line employees, but “I don’t see a whole lot of management cutbacks.”

Fuentes said the only way to achieve the required savings is to reduce personnel. “When we prepared the budget, we tried to cut across the board,” he said. Fuentes said five management employees received layoff notices last week and another five vacant management positions have been eliminated. He added that his budget is just a starting point for the council. “We’re open to any suggestions,” he said. “This thing is not etched in stone.”

Ursua said that raising taxes isn’t the answer to the city’s budget problems. At a time when business is suffering and the utility tax is a heavy burden on some families, Ursua said, “I think the worse thing you can do is raise taxes.”

The proposed budget totals $171.5 million, including $49.5 million for general operations. The general fund is $1.3 million below the amount the city is spending this fiscal year.

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City officials have forecast a continued slide in sales tax revenue, from $8.9 million a year ago to $8.76 million this year and $8.7 million next year. In addition, a slump in construction is expected to reduce the income from building permits to $850,000 from $988,000 two years ago and to reduce plan check income to $585,000 from $889,000 last fiscal year.

In addition to suffering from the recession, Fuentes said, the city has been saddled with extra expenses by the state Legislature. A bill passed last year requires the city to pay the county $400,000 in new administrative fees for the collection of property taxes and booking of prisoners.

The proposed layoff of 72 employees would save the city more than $3.3 million. The targeted employees are 17 police officers, 21 Fire Department employees--including 16 firefighters, a captain and an engineer--nine custodians, seven parks and recreation workers, five library clerks, a building inspector, a planning technician, three employees each in the finance and treasurer’s offices, secretaries in the city clerk’s and city attorney’s offices, the community relations coordinator, and the personnel supervisor and assistant.

The 40 vacant positions that would be eliminated include 14 in the Police Department, 11 in the Public Works Department and four in the Fire Department.

Fire Chief G. John Parker said closing two of the city’s eight fire stations would lengthen the emergency response time to five to seven minutes from the current 3.5 minutes. Parker said four minutes is the national standard.

The stations proposed for closure are No. 8, which serves Phillips Ranch, and No. 2, which serves Ganesha Hills and Fairplex. The city would also decommission one of its two firetrucks equipped for rescues in tall buildings.

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Parker said the lengthened response time could reduce the survival chances of heart attack and accident victims, since fire personnel usually provide initial aid before the arrival of paramedics from a private ambulance company.

Police Chief Lloyd Wood said the proposed police budget cuts would decimate the specialized units that combat narcotics and gangs. The result, he said, would be increased crime and slower responses to police calls.

“The department is undermanned as it is,” Wood said. Pasadena, whose population is nearly the same as Pomona, has 220 police officers, compared to Pomona’s 172.

Fuentes said he will recommend that the city reinstate the police and fire jobs as top priority if the city raises additional revenue through increased fees and taxes. Restoring the jobs would cost nearly $2 million. His next priority, Fuentes said, would be to allocate $67,215 to keep the library open on Mondays.

The city could raise more than $2.5 million through nine revenue measures, Fuentes said. The proposals include $700,000 from a freeze on the utility tax, $700,000 by extending the telephone tax to interstate calls, $369,980 by raising the business license tax, $350,000 by doubling the real property transfer tax and $300,000 from a contractor’s job fee. Other proposals would increase the bed tax and fees for refuse hauling and bus bench advertising.

In addition to these proposed increases, Fuentes said the city will need to raise rubbish collection and sewer maintenance fees soon to balance the sanitation fund budget.

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The proposed budget makes no provision for cost-of-living pay increases for employees. Fuentes said the city will soon begin contract negotiations with its employee groups, “but there is no money to talk about salary increases.”

In addition, Fuentes said, he is recommending that the city eliminate funding for the Tri-City Mental Health Authority, which serves about 1,500 people a year in Pomona, Claremont and La Verne. “With the state’s renewed interest in providing funding for county mental health, this program appears to be a duplication of service,” Fuentes said in his budget message.

Dr. Douglas Buche, the agency’s executive director, said the county is unable to provide the sort of mental health services his agency has been offering for nearly 30 years. Contributions from Pomona, Claremont and La Verne provide only 10% of the budget but are necessary to qualify the agency for state funds.

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