POMONA — Remedies to soothe this city's financial woes were narrowed this week after City Council members rejected plans to place a public safety assessment district on the 1987 ballot.
A divided council agreed during a special meeting Tuesday that the city should not even begin discussions on the proposed funding without unanimous support from all five council members.
The assessment district, which had been viewed by council members as a solution to the city's need for a long-term source of revenue, might have raised $3.5 million a year to fund police, fire and communication services (dispatchers). Those departments suffered cuts by the council to help make up for a $3.9 million shortfall that had been projected for the current fiscal year.
Council members Vernon Weigand and Donna Smith said they were not opposed to the special tax, but both contended that voters would not approve the plan so soon after the council had increased the local utility tax by 57% to help fund the city's $37.9-million budget.
Timing 'Isn't Right'
"It's not that it isn't justified, I just don't think it will fly," Weigand told the council.
"The timing just isn't right," Smith agreed, noting that more than 1,000 angry residents who protested at City Hall last August convinced the council not to support a citywide assessment district.
However, Mayor G. Stanton Selby and Councilman E. J. (Jay) Gaulding maintained that there was a "desperate need" for expanded safety services and that the assessment district was the only means for funding them.
"It may be the most difficult task in the world to get approval (for the assessment district), but I think it's worth the trouble," Selby said, later conceding that the proposal was "dead."
Gaulding, in an interview, said that the failure to gain support for the assessment district might even result in another utility tax increase.
'Only Available Resource'
"Right now that's the only source of funding we have," Gaulding said of the utility tax, which was raised to 11% from 7% by the council last month. "It's the only available resource."
Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer, who did not attend the Tuesday meeting, said in an interview that he would have supported the assessment district on the condition that funds be used to reduce the utility tax, not to enhance safety services.
"I'm not in favor of just dumping another tax on the people of this town," Nymeyer said.
Police Chief Richard Tefank, whose department might have received as much as $2.5 million to enhance several programs and restore some personnel positions eliminated this year, said he wanted the tax to help fund increased law enforcement services for Pomona's growing population of 112,000.
"It certainly makes keeping pace with the increasing demands much more difficult," Tefank said, noting that at 1.4 officers per 1,000 residents Pomona is behind the national average of 1.8 in cities with populations greater than 100,000.
Specific Fund Requests
In a memo to vacationing City Administrator Ora Lampman, acting Fire Chief Ron Robertson recommended an additional $761,650 for the Fire Department to enhance the Hazardous Materials Program and restore the one-truck company that was cut this year.
Similarly, Communications Director Martin Meier recommended that $184,600 be used to restore six positions eliminated this year and create an additional position to handle increased service demands that would have been created by enhancements in the police and fire programs.
The demise of the assessment district leaves the city few alternatives for resolving what officials say is the worst financial crisis in Pomona's history.
Indeed, the rejection of the special tax came just one day after the council approved a resolution never to use one-time funding sources to balance the city's budget.
Reserves Are Gone
The policy statement, which was proposed by Nymeyer to restore "credibility with taxpayers and the business community," was a reaction to the city's practice in past years of using reserve funds to make up for budget shortfalls.
During budget sessions last month, the city administrator had explained that the current fiscal crunch is more severe than in the past because the city no longer has any reserve funds from which to draw.
At that time, the council had tentatively agreed to support a public safety assessment district to establish a source of long-term funding.
"I don't know why the sudden change," Gaulding said. "I don't think there's any other options."