Hawthorne voters will be asked in November to approve a 2 1/2% increase in the city's utility tax to raise $2 million a year for increased police protection.
The measure on the Nov. 8 ballot would authorize the council to raise to 6%, from 3 1/2%, the tax that residents and businesses pay for utilities including water, gas, electricity, telephone and cable television. The funds generated by the increase would enable the city to hire 19 more sworn police officers, for a total of 104.
The average cost of utilities in Hawthorne is $150 a month. At the current rate, the tax bill would total $5.25, and at the proposed 6% rate, it would be $9, a difference of $3.75.
Approved unanimously Monday by the City Council, the special-use tax measure, earmarked solely for police, would need approval by two-thirds of the voters.
Although the council is asking voters to authorize a 6% tax, it can impose a lesser tax if the funds are not needed, council members said. In Gardena, for example, a 5% tax has been authorized but only 4% was levied.
Other cities have higher utility taxes, as much as 12 1/2% for the city of Los Angeles, council members noted.
Mayor Betty J. Ainsworth, citing the impact a 6% tax would have on local businesses, tried unsuccessfully to get the council to meet again in special session Wednesday night to limit the tax on the ballot measure to 5%.
Ainsworth said the 6% tax would be costly to businesses. For the city's largest employer, Northrop Corp., it could cost $1 million a year, she said. Worrying about the impact on business development in Hawthorne, Ainsworth called for a task force of residents and business people to suggest ways of raising funds to provide 1% of the 2 1/2% increase--about $800,000 a year.
Police Chief Kenneth R. Stonebraker opposed reducing the tax to 5%, saying the lesser tax would not provide enough revenue to hire the 19 additional sworn officers he wants. He said that would cost $2,023,000 a year, including salaries, benefits, equipment and support personnel.
Stonebraker has been meeting with community groups to drum up support for added police staffing, which he said is needed to cope with increases in the city's population and in drug- and gang-related crime.
"If you pass something less (than 6%) and you need more, you will never be able to get it," Stonebraker said, because voters are unlikely to approve two tax increases in a row.
Stonebraker said that in the first year, the city may need to levy a tax of only 4 1/2%. The full tax will not be needed immediately because it takes time to hire new staff and put new programs into effect, he said.
Stonebraker said the Hawthorne Police Department, with 85 officers, is one of the leanest in the South Bay. Area cities average 1.75 officers for each 1,000 people, he said, and under that ratio the Hawthorne department would have 133 officers.