Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Palmdale to Reduce Anti-Graffiti Prizes : Vandalism: Council moves to trim city costs and assist area businesses by lowering the $1,000 reward to those who help catch culprits to $250 in gift certificates.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying they want to cut city costs and aid local businesses, Palmdale officials will slash the $1,000 reward for helping catch graffiti vandals to $250 in gift certificates.

Recipients will be able to redeem the certificates only at Palmdale businesses that opt to participate in the revised reward program, which was approved Wednesday night by the City Council.

Mayor Jim Ledford said he does not believe the reduced value of the rewards will hurt the city's anti-graffiti campaign. He said most people do not report or detain vandals for the money, but out of civic-mindedness.

"A lot of people who have been eligible for the reward were not even aware of it," the mayor said. "It's been more of a desire to keep the community free of graffiti."

Ledford said the $1,000 payoffs were needed to draw attention to the anti-graffiti program when it was launched in 1988. The rewards were paid to people who spotted graffiti vandals at work and reported them to sheriff's deputies. The money was paid after the offender was found guilty.

Last summer, learning that the city had paid $42,000 in rewards since the program began and $31,000 in the past two years, council members became concerned that the $1,000 payoffs had become a significant drain on the city treasury. At the same time, council members were forced to lay off several city employees last year because of a budget crunch.

In August, the council ordered city staff members to prepare a switch to $250 gift certificates that could be spent only in Palmdale. Neighboring Lancaster had earlier reduced its anti-graffiti rewards from $1,000 checks to $500 gift certificates that could be used only in Lancaster.

At Wednesday's meeting, Palmdale council members approved the change.

Kari Robertson, the city's graffiti abatement coordinator, said she will mail letters to all licensed businesses in Palmdale, including retail stores and commercial services, asking them to participate in the reward program.

After the responses are received, a person eligible for a reward will look at the list of participating merchants and choose no more than two where he or she wants to spend $250. The city will send checks to the businesses to cover the amount of the certificates.

Robertson said two people who helped catch suspected vandals before last August are still eligible for $1,000 rewards if those suspects are convicted. Another person who helped catch vandals after the council ordered a change will soon receive one of the new gift certificates, she said.

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