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Pomona's Plan to Contract Services Appears Doomed

March 06, 1986|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — A plan under which this financially strapped city might have saved money by contracting with the county for police, fire and library service appears to be doomed, the victim of an unsupportive City Council and a county administration with financial problems of its own.

"The issue of county services is dead in Pomona," Councilman Mark Nymeyer said Tuesday of the idea first raised by the Citizens' Advisory Committee in December.

"I'm almost ready to say forget it," said Councilwoman Donna Smith, summing up the prevailing view among the city's five council members. "I don't think the people will allow it or the council will go in that direction."

Mayor G. Stanton Selby said contracting was "on the back burner" until three county studies of the costs involved are completed. Councilman Vernon Weigand predicted the issue will be dropped after a thorough analysis, and Councilman Jay Gaulding said he was "adamantly opposed" to contracting because it could compromise the city's independence.

Must Keep Searching

The apparent demise of the contracting option means Pomona officials must keep searching for a way out of their budget dilemma. The budget shortfall came to light in July when the council, after facing an angry throng of Pomona residents, backed down from a plan to impose a citywide assessment district for street repairs and tree trimming.

City officials had hoped that the assessment district would fill a $1.3-million gap in this year's budget.

"We've spent eight months looking at it," Gaulding said this week of the shortfall. "And we've done nothing on it. It looks grimmer every day."

The contracting recommendation was one of several made by the council-appointed advisory panel in a report on the city's financial predicament, which is expected to lead to a $4-million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

The council voted to ask the county to prepare feasibility reports on contracting for the services, and allotted $8,500 to pay for the studies.

Hankla Letter Opposes It

Last month, after county Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla had learned of the city's request, he told City Administrator Ora Lampman in a letter that he would recommend against contracting with the city unless the county could recover the "full cost" of providing the services. But he said in his Feb. 10 letter that "state law prevents counties from fully recovering the total cost of providing contract services to cities."

The state law in question is known as the Gonsalves bill, named after its sponsor, former Assemblyman Joe Gonsalves, who served from 1962 to 1974.

The bill, which took effect in 1974, was designed expressly to stop Los Angeles County from charging contract cities for certain administrative functions needed countywide. An association of contract cities, according to its current executive director, complained before the bill was passed complained that contract cities were paying at least some of the costs of maintaining elevators in county buildings and part of the salaries of the Board of Supervisors. Under the Gonsalves bill, only costs directly related to providing service to cities--new sheriff's substations or patrol cars, for example--can be passed on to the cities.

The law, Hankla said, does not allow the county to recover "certain of those costs related to managing the fiscal operation of the entire county, of which the individual contracting agency is a part." He listed his own office, that of the county auditor controller and the office of the treasurer and tax collector as costs that cannot be directly charged to cities.

Hankla indicated that he believes the county should be permitted to recover such costs because they are a necessary part of providing fire, police and library services.

County Faces Shortfall

He also said in the letter that Los Angeles County faces a $180 million shortfall in its 1986-87 budget. "In light of this, I must inform you that without full cost recovery, I cannot recommend any expansion of the county's contract services program," the letter said.

The letter evoked criticism from the Contract Cities' Assn., which represents 41 cities that contract with the county for a wide variety of services.

George Voigt, the association's executive director, questioned Hankla's use of the term "full cost," and said the law properly prevents some administrative expenses, including the costs of operating high-level administrative offices, from being included among the costs the county is entitled to recover. He said that after reading the letter to Lampman, he wrote Hankla to express his concern about how the chief administrator's position might affect present and future county contracts.

Although he said he respects Hankla, Voigt said he believes the chief administrator is "just casting about desperately for any source of funds he can because the county is in such deep financial straits."

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