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Finding Funds to Pay for More Police

July 13, 1986|HAL BERNSON | Hal Bernson is chairman of the City Council's Police, Fire and Public Safety Committee.

A task force of 19 business, labor and community leaders appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council was given the responsibility of developing recommendations on how to fund 1,500 additional police officers for Los Angeles.

After several months of deliberations, the committee in June issued its final report. Its most prominent recommendation: to hike the city's garbage collection fees as a means of paying for the extra officers.

While most of the task force's proposals are sound and deserve every consideration, I would first like to present another position regarding the garbage collection fee.

The voters of Los Angeles have twice voted against raising taxes to pay for more police officers. In the 12th District alone, which I represent, those proposals were defeated by an overwhelming 3-1 margin. This is not to say that my constituents don't favor more police officers--they just don't want their taxes raised to pay for it.

Further, even though the task force is correct in its assessment that a trash fee is an additional revenue source, which can be raised without violating the limits of Proposition 13, there is no guarantee that the funds would be used exclusively in the future for more police. When making up the budget, the city considers all revenue sources as adding to the total pie. Then it cuts that pie according to priorities.

The truth of the matter is that more police are pretty far down on the priority pole. If the Mayor and the City Council gave extra police a high priority, we would have them today.

One other negative to the proposed garbage fee is its inequality. For example, many apartment buildings have their refuse collected by the city free of charge at a cost of approximately $5 million a year to the taxpayer. Why should apartment owners get this free ride, especially when other taxpayers are being asked to pay higher garbage fees to fund more police?

While the proposal to hike garbage fees has created the most excitement, the task force recommended several more equitable and realistic alternatives that need to be considered:

--Extending the false alarm fee to all false alarms (approximately $7 million generated).

--An increase in the fines for parking and traffic violations (approximately $7 million generated).

--Increase the fee for traffic accident reports, which are provided for insurance and civil litigation purposes ($1.4 million generated).

Add those figures to some other creative ideas and before you know it, there's $5 million here, a few more million there. Pretty soon you're talking about real money and enough to hire more police.

In addition, there are some other alternatives not raised by the task force that are worth thoughtful, in-depth study.

One is a plan suggested by Dan Shapiro of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., which would take any increase in city revenues greater than the rate of inflation and allocate those funds for additional police officers. This year, that increase was over $165 million--more than enough to pay for the 1,500 extra officers.

Another would be the establishment of a special assessment district in which property owners would pay in proportion to the amount of benefit received (number of officers). Of course, this particular proposal should be voted on by the people as well.

As for the proposed garbage fee tax, while I wholeheartedly agree with Chief Daryl Gates and the task force as to the desperate need for more police, it is my opinion that there should not be any new fee nor tax without a majority vote.

It is also my opinion that the best way to fund for additional police is to simply allocate a certain amount of the increase in the city's revenue each year for this critical situation. That way, there is no requirement for a new fee or tax. It will, however, require a commitment on the part of the mayor and City Council. I am prepared to make that commitment.

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