HUNTINGTON PARK — Dejected city officials said they must cut municipal spending now that voters have rejected a 7% utility tax that would have provided $2.74 million for employee raises, 15 more police officers and other services.
"We'll have to go back and reevaluate the entire budget," Chief Administrative Officer Donald L. Jeffers said after the measure was defeated by a 2-1 margin Tuesday night. "The city can't continue to provide the same level of service. We just don't have the funding."
Meanwhile, the leader of a citizens group opposed to the tax claimed victory. Louis Hernandez, chairman of Citizens for Responsible Government, staged a campaign that accused the City Council of fiscal mismanagement and urged residents not to pick up the tab.
"The bottom line is people are just fed up," Hernandez said.
But Councilman Jim Roberts, who headed a political action committee in support of the measure, said voters simply do not like to impose taxes on themselves.
"Inside the voting booth, the pocketbook becomes very strong," Roberts said. "The voters have said that since Proposition 13," the 1978 tax-slashing measure.
The special election failed to generate much interest. Only 17.9% of the city's 7,845 registered voters cast ballots. Of the 1,404 who voted, 899, or 64%, opposed the tax, according to unofficial results released by City Clerk Marilyn Boyette Tuesday night. The results are scheduled to be certified next week, she said.
City officials had hoped that voters would approve the measure to bail the city out of its financial problems and provide money for more police officers.
Earlier this summer, the council approved a $27.8-million austerity budget with more than $150,000 in cuts from last year's spending plan. The budget also contains no raises for the city's 200 employees. Huntington Park employees received a 4.2% raise last year, which costs the city about $300,000 annually.
The budget projects spending of about $10.2 million from the city's general fund. The fund pays for most services, including police protection. The city is expected to reduce its $475,000 general fund reserve to $11,400 this year.
Jeffers said one of his priorities now will be to identify more spending cuts to free money for employee raises.
"We can't expect our employees to go without salary increase," Jeffers said. "We're going to end up losing our good employees. That issue has to be dealt with."
The city's three employee associations had agreed to defer raises until after Tuesday's election. The city will resume negotiations with those associations next month, Jeffers said.
City officials said they regret that the Police Department, which would have benefitted from the utility tax, is now likely to sustain some cuts because it accounts for about half of the city's general-fund spending.
Below State Average
A recent study by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, indicated the city's ratio of officers to residents is already well below the state average.
The Police Department is authorized to have 59 sworn officers. With a population of about 52,000, Huntington Park has 1.13 officers per 1,000 residents. The average city police department in the state has 1.51 officers per 1,000 residents, the report said.
Police Chief Patrick M. Connolly said his officers will be able to provide adequate police services at the current funding level but any cuts would hurt.
"We're rolling on everything," Connolly said.
Councilman Thomas E. Jackson warned that the pending cutbacks may include some layoffs of city employees.
"Whatever the numbers are, we'll deal with it," Jackson said. "If we have to lay off 30 employees, we'll lay them off."
Jeffers said he could not comment on the likelihood of layoffs until he has a chance to review the budget.
City officials say Huntington Park's financial problems are the result of various factors, including the elimination or reduction of federal and state subsidies that accounted for more than $1 million a year.
The city also has lost three truck and car dealerships in the past year that generated about $1 million in annual sales tax revenue, Jeffers said.
The city has picked up new businesses and sales tax. The result is that general fund income has remained about the same while expenses have increased, Jeffers said.
The city Redevelopment Agency has been another negative factor in Huntington Park's bleak financial picture.
Loans to Agency
The Redevelopment Agency is not pulling in as much revenue as anticipated. That has forced the city to loan the Redevelopment Agency about $14 million over the past several years to meet its debts.
Hernandez blamed the City Council, which doubles as the board of directors of the Redevelopment Agency, for approving a redevelopment program that has siphoned away money from the city's general fund.
The city faced similar spending cuts in 1987 because of the financial drain of the Redevelopment Agency, city officials said at the time. The city sent out notices to dozens of employees announcing possible layoffs. Instead, the council eliminated 13 positions without layoffs and made other spending cuts.
The Police Department suffered the brunt of the cutbacks in 1987, losing three officer positions, and five clerical and support positions.