POMONA — After four consecutive years of budget cutting, the City Council today will begin grappling with what officials say is the worst financial crisis in Pomona's history.
The fiscal crunch will force the city to raise taxes by $3.5 million and to make $1.7 million in cuts in order to meet projected expenditures of $37.5 million, said City Administrator Ora Lampman.
Despite voicing criticism of Lampman's proposed budget, council members have conceded that they have almost no choice but to approve it largely as presented.
Lampman--calling it the most difficult budget he has ever prepared--has recommended a 4.5% across-the-board cut that includes eliminating 34 employee positions, grounding the Police Department's helicopter, shutting down one fire truck company and turning off one-third of the street lights in residential areas.
Tax Hike Necessary
Even at that reduced level of service, Lampman said, the city still would need to raise revenues by $3.5 million, probably by increasing the local utility tax and, for the following year, forming a public safety assessment district.
During past years, the city has been able to supplement revenues with reserve funds or federal revenue-sharing money and state funds, but those sources are not sufficient to cover this year's shortfall, Lampman said.
"In the past we've had the option to use other funding," Lampman said, noting that the city used $2 million in water fund reserves to balance the 1985-86 budget. "Now there are no more pots to draw from."
For Pomona, which officials describe as a city just beginning to emerge from years of economic decline, such financial woes could not come at a worse time.
With city services already strained by a 25% population increase over the last seven years, officials say that they do not want an image of fiscal instability to jeopardize new commercial growth.
"This is the time we really need to emphasize public relations and information," Lampman said. "We don't want to reflect a depressed image."
In fact, a city-financed public relations campaign and aggressive efforts at recruiting investors already have spawned 11 redevelopment projects, but even optimistic council members admitted in an open letter mailed to Pomona residents last month that the city is experiencing "a temporary lag between development and prosperity."
'Hope for the Best'
"Pomona is very active as far as development is concerned, but the money we see probably won't show up for another four or five years," said Councilman E. J. (Jay) Gaulding. "There isn't anything we can do other than approve next year's budget and hope for the best."
Mayor G. Stanton Selby said that, once current difficulties are resolved, the city soon will prosper, in reference to the redevelopment projects.
"It may sound like a paradox," said Selby, "but the future of Pomona has never been brighter than it is today."
But the council, which meets today and Friday for all-day budget hearings at Cal Poly Pomona's Kellogg West, may be divided over who should bear the burden of the shortfall in the interim.
Under the Gann spending limit law approved by voters statewide in 1979, the city is limited to spending $37.5 million for the 1986-87 fiscal year--$1.7 million below the level necessary to fund current services.
Lampman said that although he did not like the approach, he thought that across-the-board cuts were the only way that the impact of the crunch would be shared by all departments.
Some council members, however, contended that the budget should have reflected different priorities.
"What have we gained if we trade Pomona's red ink for blood in the streets?" Councilwoman Donna Smith said of the proposal to eliminate nine police officer positions.
Cuts in Police Assailed
"If we let crime and gang violence continue at its current level, it will devour us and then we won't have a budget to worry about because we won't have much left to call Pomona," she said.
Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer agreed that the Police Department, the Fire Department and the Department of Public Works are being asked to give up too much.
"I think it's time to set some priorities and recognize that some people need to be cut more and some people need to be cut less," he said.
Lampman defended the cuts by pointing out that almost all of the 34 positions proposed for elimination already are vacant or will become so through attrition.
Result of Hiring Freeze
Those vacancies, he said, were produced when the council imposed a hiring freeze for this year to save the city $1.3 million.
Police Chief Richard Tefank said that the proposed reductions in his department probably would not affect the ability of officers to respond to emergencies.
But he worried that law enforcement would become more reactive than preventative.