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Tight $1-Billion L.B. Budget Asks Cuts in Police, Fire, Park Services

May 17, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — City Manager James C. Hankla has unveiled the tightest municipal budget in a decade, an austere $1.1-billion plan that would raise fees and taxes while cutting services slightly if approved by the City Council next month.

The city must reduce overall spending by $90 million to balance its 1987-88 budget because past surpluses are nearly depleted, oil and federal money are down sharply and property and sales tax income has not increased as expected, Hankla said.

"This is a mid-course correction bringing us back to the basics," said the city manager, projecting at least two years of belt tightening.

No layoffs are anticipated, Hankla said. But his fiscal plan calls for small spending cuts in basic services such as street maintenance, libraries, police and fire protection, recreation programs and parks. It would also delay several building projects.

Additionally, the plan would hike city fees on electric bills by 2%, increase hotel room taxes from 7% to 10% and raise the surcharge paid by cable television users.

Hankla is also asking the City Council, which will consider his budget June 9, to raise garbage-collection fees from $7.72 to $8.80 a month and to increase charges for use of marina slips and city ambulances.

Traditional Services Hard Hit

Perhaps hardest hit by the cuts would be traditional city services, those paid for by the city's general fund, over which the council has its greatest control.

The council has little control over the bulk of the budget, however, since about $850 million is tied up in self-supporting city agencies such as the Gas and Water departments, refuse collection services, the airport and the harbor.

According to Hankla, general-fund spending should be reduced by 11.7%, from the $270 million budgeted this year to $239 million for the year beginning July 1. The public safety departments, health services and public works are covered by this budget.

In some cases, Hankla said, the cost cutting will hardly be noticed because of savings implemented by former City Manager John Dever last November and Hankla since he took over March 1. Those measures will reduce actual spending this year by $22 million, Hankla said.

For example, the Police Department budget would drop from this year's budgeted $77.7 million to $75.6 million as 15 jobs are cut and overtime reduced sharply. But four more officers will actually be in uniform next year because of unfilled positions in the current police budget, Hankla said.

Similarly, proposed closure of a fire station at Palo Verde Avenue and Willow Street will eliminate 14 firefighter jobs, but affected employees will be shifted to vacant positions elsewhere.

Probably more noticeable--and controversial--would be a citywide reduction in the hours park recreation centers are operated. Hankla said the reduction would be minor but could not say what the new hours would be.

As the new city manager presented his first budget at a press conference Thursday, some City Council members were already saying they would like to see changes.

Councilman Ray Grabinski said he does not want staffing at recreation centers reduced because idle youngsters are potential criminals. "There's going to be a lot of struggle on that one, especially from me," Grabinski said.

Wants to Hear More

Councilman Warren Harwood said he wants to hear more about Hankla's proposed cut in hours at the Houghton Park Senior Center in his council district.

And Mayor Ernie Kell said of the closure of the Palo Verde Avenue fire station, which Hankla said would save $1 million: "I would have a difficult time with that. . . . I think the Fire Department will come up with something more creative than that."

But Hankla's proposal that all Tidelands Agency programs be absorbed by other city departments drew council support. The agency administers lifeguard and marine patrol services and manages beachfront public lands and oil-producing properties.

Hankla said he wants to dissolve the agency so 11 administrative positions can be eliminated, saving perhaps $400,000 next year and more thereafter. Two of the agency's most important responsibilities--management of the Queen Mary lease and Convention Center operations--were transferred elsewhere years ago, he said.

Hankla said he will attempt to shift Tidelands administrators, including $94,000-a-year General Manager Carolyn Sutter, into existing postions in other departments.

Faces Transition Period

Sutter will be transferred into the city manager's office for about six months during a transition period, Hankla said. But he said he had not yet considered whether she might be able to find an equivalent position with the city.

Councilman Edd Tuttle said he recommended dissolution of the Tidelands Agency to Hankla.

"There has been a lot of concern about the Tidelands Agency, about how that department has been administered," said Tuttle, who declined to be specific.

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