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Tax Vote Proves to Be 'Exercise in Futility'

July 16, 1987|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — Mayor Donna Smith knew it would be a tall order to get the two-thirds voter approval necessary to pass the $2.4-million-a-year police tax that appeared on Tuesday's ballot.

But when results of the special election showed the measure being defeated by a two-thirds majority, Smith simply sighed, shook her head and took a long drag from her cigarette.

"I think it's a real shame," she said in the nearly deserted City Council chambers Tuesday night. "I'm taking this as a sad day for Pomona."

Voters in this city of 118,000 solidly defeated Proposition A, with 2,680 votes against the proposed tax and 1,546 in favor. Of the city's 25 precincts, only two supported the measure, in each case by a fraction of a percentage point.

"Didn't I say 'an exercise in futility'? Weren't those my words?" asked Councilwoman Nell Soto, who supported the tax but had termed it "unrealistic."

"The people are saying they don't want a new tax," she said. "There has to be a way (to pay for police services) without the people feeling like they're getting gouged all the time."

If the measure had been approved, it would have financed a program requested by Police Chief Richard M. Tefank to include 20 new police officers, 13 civilian staff members and a second helicopter for seven-day-a-week aerial patrols. The revenue would have represented 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 City Council that such an increase could not be financed by reshuffling the city's perennially tight budget, which has been cut by $1 million each year since 1982.

"We'll just continue to do the best job possible and do all the things we can with the available resources," Tefank said. "But it is disappointing. To police this community as this community needs to be policed, I need more people."

Under the tax, which would have remained in effect for four years, owners of single family homes and condominiums would have paid $55 a year. Apartment owners would have paid $55 a unit. Mobile home owners would have paid $18.30.

Commercial and industrial property would have been billed at $110 an acre up to a maximum of $1,110. Vacant property would have been billed at $27.50 an acre to a maximum of $275. Churches would have paid $55 an acre to a maximum of $550.

Over the last decade, as the city's population has grown by more than 30,000, the number of police officers has remained constant at 144. During that time, Tefank said, the number of calls for service has jumped from 102,000 annually to more than 162,000.

"We grew by 5,000 people just in the last year without adding any new officers," he said. "Just keep extrapolating that out, and what happens?"

Although no organized opposition emerged to fight the measure, neither was there a particularly aggressive campaign to promote the plan, city officials conceded. In the last two weeks, Tefank sponsored a series of community forums that attracted only a few people. Over the weekend, the mayor and about 30 police officers campaigned door-to-door in support of the measure.

'Sends Mixed Message'

"It really sends you a mixed message," Smith said. "When I ran for office, the people knew I supported more police service and they elected me. Are these the same people who cast those votes?"

A similar move to boost Police Department manpower fizzled last July when the council failed to reach agreement on a proposed $3.5-million assessment district that would have paid for Tefank's program as well as expanded fire and communication services.

Dissenting council members contended at the time that voters would not support an additional tax only one month after the council increased the local utility tax from 7% to 11%.

After much debate and several piecemeal efforts, the council in February voted to put the police tax on the ballot. In defeating the measure, 11% of the city's registered voters turned out.

"Oh well," Vice Mayor E. J. (Jay) Gaulding said. "I guess the people will just have to suffer with what they've got."

Pomona Final Results Winner in bold type. Should a special tax be levied for four years to increase police protection? (Two-thirds vote necessary for passage)

Vote % No 2,680 63.4 Yes 1,546 36.6

Voter turnout 11%

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