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Budget Debate Puts Focus on Push, Pull of Urban Politics

June 14, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — After City Manager James C. Hankla presented a 1987-88 city budget that would increase fees and taxes while slashing some services, people and agencies went before the City Council last week to argue their cases.

The concerns people brought to the council chamber were heartfelt. Their worries reflect how a city's budget reaches into every corner of urban life, in large ways and small.

Margaret Durnin, president of the 300-member Friends of the Long Beach Library, said the $1.12-billion budget would mean fewer substitute librarians, as well as fewer books, videos, magazines and less foreign-language material to serve a growing Asian and Latino population.

Kathy Fleming, representing International City Theatre, explained that the amount the city gives the Long Beach Public Corp. for the Arts could determine whether her group, in turn, receives a $2,000 grant for its reading series.

Paul Schmidt of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved questioned why the council was increasing its own budget while cutting human service programs.

Resident Robert Lorge said people were so upset after learning their neighborhood fire station may be closed next year that they gathered more than 3,300 signatures in four days to persuade the council that it is worth saving.

If cuts have to be made, let them come from elsewhere, Lorge said. "If it's pushing a broom down the street instead of a street sweeper, we'll do that. We want our fire station to remain open."

Plea Found Its Mark

Lorge's presentation may have been the most successful Tuesday.

City Council members and Hankla said they would probably find an alternative to shutting the Palo Verde Avenue fire station, though Hankla had hoped to save $1 million by closing it.

Those and other choices that the manager and the council will make on the budget over the next few weeks will reflect the bargaining and compromises that take place as the nine council members decide how to divvy up the budget.

Not all the pleas for changes in Hankla's proposal can be met, council members said after the meeting. Cuts will be made, and they have to come from somewhere, they explained.

"Everything should pretty much stay the same" as recommended by the city manager, Mayor Ernie Kell said.

If adopted later this month, the new budget will bring a 2% hike in the electricity users' tax (about $7 a year per household), a $1.08 increase to $8.80 a month in the garbage-collection fees for homeowners, and increased charges for cable television, marina slips and emergency ambulance services. Visitors also are targetted, as the council considers raising the hotel room tax from 7% to 10%.

To balance its 1987-88 budget, the city must reduce its overall spending by 7.4%, or $90 million, from last year's budget of $1.21 billion.

The city's has depleted past surpluses and there is less oil revenue and federal money. The situation is further aggravated by property and sales tax income not increasing as expected.

While no layoffs are expected, cuts are planned in basic services, such as street maintenance, libraries, police and fire protection. Recreation programs and parks may be among the hardest hit.

Cuts in Police Department

In the Police Department, a drop from this year's $77.7 million to $75.6 million will mean 15 fewer jobs and a sharp reduction in overtime. However, the city will not decrease the number of police officers.

The budget means "bad news for the human service programs of the city," Schmidt, of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, told the council.

The citizens' watchdog group questioned an increase of $1 million between the 1985-86 and 1987-88 budgets for the mayor and City Council.

And the council had an answer. Sheila Parsons, the council's executive assistant, said most of the $1 million covers programs not under its jurisdiction two years ago: $392,000 for the arts and almost $450,000 for social service programs.

Schmidt, a Cal State Long Beach political science instructor who compared personnel budgets for the past three years, also questioned why the council added a staff position for its department at an annual salary of $48,059 "when the human services of this city are asked to suffer in the name of revenue shortfalls." The council personnel budget also contains an increase of almost five positions for clerical staff.

Parsons, whose job Schmidt referred to, has been the mayor and council's executive assistant since last year, Kell said.

Post Has Been Unfilled

The position has existed since 1976 but has not been filled for years, Parsons said. When Parsons was hired to the $48,059 executive assistant's job in 1986, the council did not replace a $35,000 administrative assistant who had just left.

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