Angry residents blasted city officials Tuesday over a plan to increase fees on property owners to help maintain city parks.
More than 300 people attended a public forum on the issue at the South Gate Park sports center. Officials explained that an increase in the Lighting and Landscaping Assessment Maintenance District is needed to cover a $1.3-million budget shortfall.
Many of the 53 residents who addressed officials said the increase is being applied unfairly to property owners and that renters should be included. More than 100 people signed a petition calling on the city to abandon the plan.
"This is a working-class community," said homeowner Edgar Santamaria, 40. "This is not the time to raise taxes. There is no way I can afford to pay more taxes."
If the funds are not raised, the city will have to reduce park maintenance and other services, including an aquatics program, officials said. In addition, eight positions for police officers would remain vacant and an anti-gang unit and bike patrols would be cut, Police Chief Ronald George said.
Under the proposal, homeowners would pay about $5 more each month. The estimated $1.3 million raised would be used to maintain South Gate Park and Hollydale Park. Funds that were earmarked for those purposes would be used instead to pay for the police services, said Chief Administrative Officer Todd W. Argow.
Residents offered a number of alternatives to the increase. They suggested charging a fee for using city parks, cutting city staff pay by 15% or issuing more parking and speeding tickets.
But some speakers said the fee increase is justified.
The City Council will have another hearing on the proposed increase at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at the sports center, 9520 Hildreth Ave. The council is expected to decide the matter at that time.