POMONA — After more than three hours of tedious questioning and sometimes-contentious debate, which followed almost a month of scrutiny by both the public and city officials, the City Council has approved a $40.8-million budget, virtually in its original form.
The 1988-89 city budget, proposed last month by new City Administrator A. J. Wilson, slightly raises the utility tax for businesses while lowering the residential utility tax to 9% by July, 1990. It also imposes cost-cutting measures on some city departments and provides for the hiring of two new traffic-control officers.
"This is, in fact, the closest we can get to the dreams for our community," Mayor Donna Smith said of the budget approved 4 to 1 Monday. "We'd all like to see many more things in it, but we only have so many dollars."
A small jump over last year's $39.4-million budget, this year's budget is the first proposed by Wilson, who was hired three months ago.
Wilson had earlier pledged to reduce the utility tax on residences from 11% to 9%. The budget does that over a period of two years, while raising the 11% tax on businesses to 11 1/2% in July and then to 12% by July, 1989.
The council turned down an option to immediately raise the business tax to 14%, which would have gradually declined to 12% over two years. That option would have financed a proposed $1-million capital improvement program aimed at repairing deteriorating streets.
The new rate will raise the maximum amount of utility tax that can be charged annually to a business from the current $36,000 to $72,000 by July of next year.
Only Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant voted against the budget, saying it taxed the public unreasonably and only benefited "a bunch of carpetbaggers" who have taken over City Hall.
At Odds With Majority
"The quality of services we're providing in Pomona is not that good that we should be charging an 11% or 12% utility tax," said Bryant, who was at odds with most other members throughout the meeting and walked out after the budget was adopted. "They don't know what it is to cut on this council; they don't know what it's like to tighten the belt. And that's what I'm asking them to do," he said before leaving the meeting.
Some business leaders had expressed concern about the possibility of higher taxes, but none spoke at Monday's sparsely attended meeting. Karl S. Cayford, executive vice president of the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that the budget appeared to be acceptable to the business community.
"Our main concern was that the city not begin to develop an entirely new level of taxing," he said. "We're prepared to carry our weight, but not to unreasonable lengths."
The budget also included turning on all of the city's 5,155 street lights, 465 of which were shut off in 1982 to cut costs, and extending hours at the Pomona Public Library.
There was little substantial debate over the budget Monday night, as council members spent most of the four-hour meeting questioning Wilson about intricacies of expenditures, arguing over the specifics of past taxes or leveling personal attacks at one another.
At one point, for example, Smith drew criticism when she called Wilson's proposal a "good, bare-bones budget."
"The mayor says this is the best bare-bones budget she has ever seen," Bryant retorted. "Well, she hasn't seen very many. . . . Tell me that's a bare-bones budget, and I'll tell you where to go."
Smith then fired back: "Tell me where to go, because that's a bare-bones budget."
Later, Smith complained about Bryant's conduct. "It's hard to respect your elders when they act like little children," she said. "And you can quote me on that."
And when Councilman E. J. (Jay) Gaulding pointed out that the council had discussed the budget twice before, bemoaning that "this is the third time we've been through this miserable process," Bryant questioned his resolve.
"Maybe he's going to die tomorrow or something and maybe many people probably hope he would," Bryant said, adding that he wanted to spend as much time as necessary to weed out waste from the budget.
Despite spending cuts of about $440,000 from city departments and elimination of the Management Services Department, Bryant contended that the budget was loaded with frills, such as magazine subscriptions for city employees.
But Smith, recalling two all-day budget study sessions attended by the council, where such expenses were individually questioned and justified, said the subscriptions are actually for necessary professional and trade journals.
"I can assure you that no one is buying Playboy," she said.
After the approval of the budget and Bryant's departure, Wilson read the results of a study done at Bryant's request, and the council voted 4 to 0 to go ahead with a plan to institute automated trash pickup throughout the city.
"I'm very excited" about the idea, Smith said, describing attractive refuse containers she had seen in nearby Claremont that can be picked up automatically by sanitation trucks. "I think it's going to do a lot for the city of Pomona and how we view ourselves."