Inglewood voters, and now the Inglewood City Council, have spoken: The city will get 20 new police officers as the result of a property tax increase approved this week.
The question is how soon the city can put the officers on the street.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a citywide "police benefit assessment district" to raise the $1.4 million needed to increase the 187-officer department by 20 officers.
The tax will not take effect until July 1, which means it could be the end of next year before they are working. City officials, citing voter approval Nov. 8 of an advisory measure on the tax, say they are looking for ways to hire the officers sooner.
"The people have said they are very strongly interested in getting more officers to fight the gang and drug problem," said City Manager Paul Eckles. "We are considering whether there are alternatives for accelerating the process."
Council members decided to hold the advisory vote after some residents protested the assessment district idea at a public hearing in June.
No Voter Approval Needed
Unlike a special property tax, a benefit district does not require voter approval. It is similar to districts set up to provide street lighting, libraries or drainage improvements, in which residents are taxed for specific benefits--in this case, more police officers.
The impact on tax bills, however, is the same as a special property tax.
Inglewood's use of an assessment district to hire more police officers appears to be a first in California, according to the League of California Cities. Under the assessment district, the owner of a single-family home will pay about $53 a year in additional property taxes. Owner-occupied homes will be assessed a discounted rate of $45. Owners of apartment units will be charged on a sliding scale starting at $53 per unit, and commercial properties will be assessed based on street frontage.
The money will pay for a new task force of 20 experienced officers to fight gang and drug activity that continues to plague the city despite an overall decrease in crime in recent years.
Seen As a Mandate
Since the tax cannot take effect until July 1, council members could find themselves in the awkward position of having won strong voter support on a potentially controversial issue and feeling pressure to show results.
"I do believe it is a mandate to do something as soon as possible," said Councilman Anthony Scardenzan, a longtime proponent of more police. Mayor Edward Vincent and other council members have also said they hope the city can find a way to hire more police officers soon.
Councilman Scardenzan is up for election in April, as is Councilman Daniel Tabor. And Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas could also end up in an election next year, depending on the outcome of his appeal of a judge's ruling overturning his 1987 election.
Vincent and Tabor also are considered likely candidates in a special election to fill an Assembly seat.
Council members have mentioned several possible revenue-raising alternatives to allow the city to begin hiring, including an increase in utility fees and floating a loan that would be repaid with income from the assessment district.
But Eckles declined to discuss any measures being considered.
"We take pride in the fact that we think things through carefully before we present issues to the public," Eckles said.