POMONA — Like the proverbial camel straining under an ever-growing burden, Pomona police say they are steadily approaching their final straw.
Over the last decade, as the city's population has grown from 86,000 to 118,000, the number of police officers has remained constant at 144.
During those same years, the number of calls for service has jumped from 102,000 annually to more than 162,000.
Today, police say, if you call on a weekend night and are not in physical danger or being robbed, expect a two- to three-hour wait.
"Something has got to give," said Police Chief Richard M. Tefank.
That something could come Tuesday when Pomona voters decide the fate of a $2.4-million-a-year special tax aimed at beefing up the city's police force.
The measure, which carries a yearly price tag of about $55 per homeowner, would create jobs for 20 new officers and 13 civilians and fund a second police helicopter for seven-day-a-week aerial patrols.
"It's very, very critical," Vice Mayor E. J. (Jay) Gaulding said. "If we don't get it, I see nothing but the rapid deterioration of this city."
But while city officials wholeheartedly endorse the tax, some council members say they doubt that such a measure can get the necessary two-thirds voter approval.
"I still don't think it's very realistic," said Councilwoman Nell Soto, adding that she will vote for the tax. "I hope I'm wrong. But I think people are just sick and tired of getting taxed."
Although no organized opposition has emerged to fight the measure, neither has there been an aggressive campaign to promote the plan. A series of four community forums sponsored by Tefank during the last two weeks attracted fewer than 50 people. "There hasn't been much public time spent on selling the idea," Councilman Mark A. T. Nymeyer said. "It's been kept kind of on the back burner. . . . But I can't really say if that's good or bad."
If approved, the tax would remain in place for four years, after which another two-thirds vote would be required to renew it. The funds represent about an 18% increase in the $13.3 million the Police Department is budgeted to receive this year.
City Administrator Ora E. Lampman had told the council that such an increase could not have been funded by reshuffling the city's perennially tight budget, which has been cut by $1 million every year since 1982.
Under the special tax, owners of single-family homes and condominiums would pay $55 a year. Apartment owners would pay $55 per unit. Mobile home owners would pay $18.30. Commercial and industrial property would be billed at $110 an acre up to a maximum of $1,110. Vacant property would be billed at $27.50 an acre up to a maximum of $275. Churches would pay $55 an acre up to a maximum of $550.
"The feedback I've received is that people say they 'blow' more than $55 a year," Mayor Donna Smith said. "They tell me: 'I'd gladly have one less beer or one less pack of cigarettes or whatever it takes to feel safer.' "
According to Tefank, the 20 extra officers would be used primarily to beef up the department's narcotics task force and traffic patrol. The 13 civilians would handle the time-consuming paper work and field reporting, freeing additional officers for duty.
"As far as bang for the buck, I think we could have a major impact on some of those areas that are causing difficulties in the community," Tefank said. "We are currently being reactive in some situations where, if we had enough people, we could" take the initiative."
The special election comes after years of public discussion and several aborted attempts to fund increased services in this fiscally pinched city.
Last July, a similar move to boost manpower fizzled when the council failed to reach agreement on a proposed $3.5-million assessment district that would have funded Tefank's program and expanded fire and communication services.
Dissenting council members contended at the time that voters would not support an additional tax just one month after the council had increased the local utility tax from 7% to 11%.
But as residents and council members became increasingly frustrated by chronic drug trafficking in their neighborhoods, pressure began to mount on the council to take action.
Led by Smith, who made several impassioned pleas to crack down on drug dealing, the council voted last September to increase helicopter patrols from two to four nights a week.
A method of financing had not been determined, however, and the next week council members reversed their votes.
Then, in December, the council voted to spend $150,000 in reserve funds on increased police service. Tefank told the council that he would use the money to expand aerial patrols from two to five nights a week, the level at which the program had operated before being cut during budget sessions in May, 1986.
Finally, hoping to avoid such piecemeal efforts, the council in January voted to support Tefank's proposal for beefing up the police force. Again the council stopped short of funding the increase, but it pledged that the call for more police funding was serious and that some method of financing would be found.
In February, the council voted to spend up to $42,000 on a consultant to prepare a rate structure to raise the $2.4 million, and shortly thereafter the council voted to place the special tax on the July ballot.
"I kind of feel the public has requested more protection," Smith said. "This is their chance. If they feel they are lacking, they should vote for this. But there is a price tag attached, unfortunately."