HERMOSA BEACH — A request from Police Chief Frank Beeson for a ballot measure calling for a special tax to pay for police, fire and paramedic services was rejected by the City Council this week, but council members voted to add two officers to the financially strapped Police Department.
A majority of the council two weeks ago informally agreed to place the proposed measure on the ballot in June, even though most of the council members said they opposed the tax. But when the proposal returned to the council on Tuesday night as a formal recommendation, Councilman George Barks, who at one time favored putting the measure on the ballot, had changed his mind.
Barks, who is running for a fourth term in the April election, said that "the election had nothing to do with" his change of mind. "I have decided that this proposed tax ought to be a last resort action of the council."
Barks joined Mayor Jack Wood, who is also seeking reelection, and Councilman Gary Brutsch in opposing the ballot measure, while Councilmen Tony DeBellis and John Cioffi said they favored placing the issue before the voters.
Barks said he had received numerous phone calls from residents who had read about the proposed measure and who complained it hit property owners too hard. The proposed levy would have been $182 a year for the next four years for each housing unit in the city.
The proposed tax, which had been supported by City Manager Gregory Meyer, would have provided about $1.6 million in revenue for police, fire and paramedic services. Currently, their combined expenditures are $3.6 million--almost double the amount of money the city collects each year in property taxes.
"The finances of the city are not healthy," Meyer told the council in urging approval of the ballot measure. He said estimates show the city's general fund will be as low as $12,000 at the end of the fiscal year in June.
After the meeting, Beeson said he was disappointed that the council had rejected the proposal. "We need the money, but it was dropped," Beeson said. "The council made a political decision and that is the way it is."
Put Off Inevitable
The officer who had prepared the proposal, Wally Moore, head of the police officers' association, said the council was "putting off the inevitable" and criticized Barks for changing his mind.
"I am appalled that one week he votes to go ahead, and then he votes not to," Moore said. "I just wonder what his motivations are sometimes. I don't think the man has a grasp on the real situation in Hermosa."
In a separate action proposed by Brutsch, the council voted to add two police officer positions to the Police Department to patrol the downtown area. The decision increases the force to 36 positions. The council had cut three positions from the department last November.
The two positions will be funded by revenue collected from the city's utility users tax, which the council approved last year, partly to pay for a downtown foot patrol. The Police Department had been manning the patrol by assigning officers to work the beat on an overtime basis.
Beeson and Moore welcomed the additional manpower, but criticized the council for making personnel decisions for the Police Department. Beeson said he would prefer being able to assign officers as needs arise, not by council directive.
Barks opposed the two new positions, saying that it would be a mistake to commit the city to two more city employees while other programs are being cut from the budget.