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Council OKs Tax Increase for Compton

August 13, 1987|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — Despite continuing objections from residents and business leaders, the City Council voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to raise the utility tax rate by 40% in an effort to annually replace at least $1.3 million lost with the recent demise of federal revenue sharing.

As Mayor Walter R. Tucker cast the deciding vote in favor of the tax increase, he said he only wanted to "keep it alive" until the council can consider it a second and final time at next Tuesday's meeting.

Councilmen Floyd A. James and Robert L. Adams also voted for the tax, while Councilman Maxcy D. Filer and Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins were opposed.

"It's an easy tax that does not hurt the public," James said. "It's a tax we can all bear." Still, he suggested that the council might later agree to set a tax ceiling to soften the blow to business customers who already pay substantial amounts.

Average Hike Would Be $2.19 Monthly

The tax would increase from 5% to 7% the amount each resident or business pays monthly for gas, electricity, telephone and water. City administrators say the average residential customer would pay $2.19 more a month, while commercial customers would pay from $7 to $9 more per utility. Senior citizens would be exempt.

Until the program was dismantled by Congress last year, revenue sharing pumped about $2.5 million annually--the largest amount given any city in Southeast Los Angeles County other than Long Beach--into Compton's coffers.

But Filer said the council was really "giving false hope to the citizens," noting that administrators have been saying the money will be used to improve public safety services and upgrade parks and recreation facilities.

"All of us as council members know that, yes, the money is going to the general fund," Filer said, "but it doesn't specifically say that it's going to fire, police or parks and recreation.

"In fact, I think the administration--and I'm saying this as plainly as I can--used those three departments actually like a motherhood-and-apple-pie situation," Filer continued. "They know that the average citizen will say 'Yes, we want a better Police Department. Yes, we want a better Fire Department. Yes, we want a better Parks and Recreation Department.' "

Filer went on to accuse administrators of attempting to "mislead" the council by giving them figures that substantially understated the average utility charge--and thus the utility tax--incurred by Compton residents.

Defends Figures

However, Phyllis Tucker, an assistant to City Manager James C. Goins, said last week that the figures came directly from the utility firms that serve the city. All are private utilities except the water works, which the city operates.

"If we were to rearrange the budget we would have no problem raising the funds," Filer claimed, and then recited a list of employee travel accounts, reserve funds and administrative departments that, if cut, could reduce overall city costs by about $900,000.

"If Councilman Filer can work these kinds of miracles," James scoffed, "then maybe he should be city manager."

James said that although he is sensitive to business leaders who complain they already face high costs, he generally believes that Compton firms--particularly those in the industrial park along the 91 Freeway--don't pay enough other taxes to make up for the services they receive.

"With the damage they're doing to our streets (by having heavy truck traffic) . . . they're still not paying their fair share," James contended.

Councilwoman Robbins urged the council to form a committee of homeowners and business leaders to discuss revenue alternatives before raising the utility tax.

During a public hearing before the council debate began, a similar suggestion had been made by Joe Ochoa, vice president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Ochoa also presented the council with a petition signed by 1,000 residents who oppose the tax increase.

"Any business that can't sustain this 2% tax (increase) is a marginal business anyway," resident Sidney Bowen said, in support of the tax. If the council fails to act and services are reduced, he warned the officials, "You're going to be held accountable" at election time.

Favors Tax

Councilman Adams said he favored the tax because "I think we need additional policemen in this city." The Police Department has 227 employees, of whom 129 are sworn officers. The new budget passed in June calls for the hiring of at least 18 additional officers.

"We're having three to four killings in the black community every day . . . the statistics are there," said Adams, who operates a mortuary. "If you don't believe it, stop by the mortuary, I've got two of them over there now."

Speaking as a businessman, Adams said, "If I'm not complaining about (the tax increase), those people who live in Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades (but run firms in Compton) shouldn't be complaining about it."

City Clerk Charles Davis suggested that the city legalize poker clubs, as other communities have, to raise tax revenue. However, Davis said he recognized that such a position would "not be politically safe within the religious community." The council voted down a card club proposal several years ago when local ministers complained.

But Mayor Tucker said if the city really wants to save money it should abolish the Police Department and subcontract for services from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. While Compton pays about $13 million for its own police force, neighboring Carson pays only $6 million for an equivalent cadre of sheriff's deputies.

"If we're talking about bucks, the bucks are right there," Tucker said.

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