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City Administrator Under Fire as Pomona Council OKs Budget

July 03, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — In a meeting interrupted by demands from the audience to fire City Administrator Ora Lampman, a divided City Council this week adopted a controversial budget calling for a 57% increase in the local utility tax.

By a 3-2 vote Monday night, the council approved the $37.9-million spending plan that also forced the city to make more than $1 million in cuts to meet projected revenues for the 1986-87 fiscal year.

The vote, which was expected to culminate several months of debate, semed only to reignite old conflicts over what city officials have described as the worst financial crisis in the city's history.

Councilwoman Donna Smith, who voted against the budget, sharply criticized Lampman for an apparent typographical error on last month's council agenda that led her to believe that a second vote would be taken on the utility tax hike.

'Feeling Like a Fool'

"I was left feeling like a fool," said Smith, who had originally voted for the increase to 11% but whose motion to hike the utility tax to only 10% was defeated 4 to 1 Monday night. "I was still studying the budget hoping that an 11% tax wouldn't be necessary."

When Lampman made an comment, inaudible to the audience, back to Smith, she erupted and said, "I'm not going to sit here and listen to you tell me those are false accusations."

Their exchange prompted many of the estimated 100 persons in the hot, crowded council chamber to chant, "Get rid of Lampman! Get rid of him!"

Later in the evening, after comments from the audience again had disrupted the meeting, Mayor G. Stanton Selby banged his gavel and said, "I'm going to ask for common courtesy or I'm going to recess this council meeting. Now restrain your emotions."

The budget--adopted largely as Lampman proposed it two months ago--eliminates 24 now-vacant employee positions, shuts down one fire truck company and limits the Police Department's helicopter to weekend patrol.

Even at that reduced level of service, Lampman said it was necessary to raise the utility tax from 7% to 11% to help fund the $3.9-million shortfall in next year's budget.

The tax already had been raised from 7% to 8% for this year, but was scheduled to return to its previous level in 1986-87.

"This is a challenge that would strike terror in the heart of any elected official," said Selby, repeating remarks he made June 20 when the council voted to approve the increase in the tax paid on gas, water, electricity and telephone bills.

Feeling of Betrayal

Smith said in an interview after the meeting that she was displeased with Lampman's performance as city administrator and felt "betrayed" by the misunderstanding over the second tax vote.

"I hope he got the message that I'm not happy--there's no confidence there," Smith said. "If he doesn't get his act together, it wouldn't bother me if he looked elsewhere for a job."

But Lampman, in a separate interview, said that he only makes recommendations to the council for members to consider while they make their own decisions.

"They obviously don't like to make those final, hard decisions about raising taxes," he said. "But there's nothing I can do about it."

Tax Hike Called 'Excessive'

Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer also was critical of staff recommendations, calling the tax increase "excessive" and asking the council to table the budget until other alternatives could be considered.

"Since I have been a member of this council, every year we have gone through the same process with the same built-in formula for disaster in future years," Nymeyer said before casting his "no" vote.

Selby, however, defended the budget and urged the council to view the situation more optimistically.

"It is unfortunate that there are those who criticize with tunnel vision, not allowing the full 180 degrees to see the positive that will soon overshadow the negative," he said.

Councilman E. J. Gaulding, a longtime critic of the utility tax, said that the council should present a unified front to meet the city's problems.

"It's a lousy tax, but I'm not going to sit here and destroy Pomona's future," he said.

Councilman Vernon Weigand agreed that teamwork was necessary, especially "when the five of us at this table even tonight can't get along."

This year's fiscal crunch is particularly severe because, after four consecutive years of budget cutting, the council has no reserve funds left to cover a shortfall between revenues and expenditures, Lampman said.

Lack of Alternatives

During past years, the city has been able to supplement revenues with reserve funds or federal revenue-sharing money, but those sources were not sufficient to cover this year's gap, he said.

Initially, Lampman had proposed a 4.5% across-the-board cut that would have eliminated 34 employee positions, grounded the Police Department's helicopter and turned off one-third of the street lights in residential areas.

Most of the employee positions already were vacant or would become so through attrition, Lampman said.

But council members, during two all-day budget sessions last month, restored more than $500,000 of the cuts, including 10 employee positions, the street lighting and a weekend helicopter patrol.

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