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Hawaiian Gardens Debt May Force Police Cutbacks

However popular the city’s new police force, Hawaiian Gardens City Council members acknowledge that they may have acted prematurely when they recently awarded officers a 19% raise.

Now they are wondering whether the city’s finances require police layoffs instead.

Pressure is mounting to trim the city budget after word spread this week that the city is in the red $3 million.

Some council members said they were surprised at the debt and had yet to propose a solution. Mayor Lupe Cabrera suggested that recent staff and police raises--and even police jobs--could be sacrificed to balance the city’s accounts.

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Although no one is ruling out deep cuts to, or even elimination of, the police force, council members say a return to less costly patrols by county sheriffs could be politically risky. Rather, they want to look at trimming the entire city payroll by laying off part-time staff and recruiting more volunteers.

A utility tax approved last year was supposed to help fund the Police Department, however exemptions for low-income families and senior citizens have cut short projected revenues.

Officials say cash has also been flowing unexpectedly slow from the holder of the city’s only card club license. The casino, which has yet to open, was billed as a fiscal savior before a divisive election last year allowed its operation.

Cabrera nevertheless hopes that cash advances from the casino can still save the Police Department. Even so, he said he plans to ask the police chief how many officers he can do without.

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