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Battle Looms in Claremont Over Assessment


CLAREMONT — A group of residents are angry about a proposed landscape- and lighting-assessment fee that could cost every homeowner $102 next year, if the city adopts the proposal.

After weeks of reviewing Claremont's 1989-91 budget, the Citizens Advisory Finance Committee decided that creating a landscape and lighting district would best generate revenues to cover a projected $1.2-million shortfall in the two-year budget. Committee Chairman Dennis Smith said the committee will present a formal recommendation to the City Council by the end of this month.

City Manager Glenn Southard said he has recommended the adoption of the assessment district because he does not want to cut existing services. If passed by the council, the fee would apply for the 1990-91 fiscal year, which will start July 1.

The assessment would cover maintenance of street lights, roads and trees, as well as general landscaping expenses. Those costs are now paid out of the general fund. The assessment would free enough money in the general fund to cover the budget deficit.

Leslie Boring, a 25-year resident, has started a petition drive against the assessment district. Boring said he was angry that the City Council passed a budget it could not afford.

"They willingly adopted it. They didn't want to reduce costs. . . . They wanted to keep building things," he said.

In place of the additional assessment, Boring recommended that the city "use budgetary control and run a very tight ship."

In August, the council appointed 16 residents to the advisory committee to review the budget, study the general fund shortfall and determine alternatives, such as service cuts or new revenue sources.

After the committee makes its formal recommendation, the council will have to decide whether to create the assessment district, make service cuts or use a combination of the two.

In recent weeks, opposition has grown to the proposed district; Boring said nearly 5,000 people have signed the petition opposing the assessment. And more residents have been attending advisory committee meetings.

Councilman Nick Presecan, who has attended most meetings, said he favors the assessment district because the residents will be paying for services they get and the funds could not be shifted to other city projects. Nonetheless, the council needs public input and a decision couldn't be made in one night, he said. A public hearing will be held in late December or early January.

"There are a lot of people who do support it," he said. "Nobody has come up with suggested cuts that will raise $1.2 million. The council members in the end are going to do what the bulk of the people want done."

Although many committee members favor what some residents call a "tax," others are undecided or opposed to it.

David J. Wishart, a committee member, is against the increase.

"I think the (local) government should recognize that they are still under Proposition 13 rules," he said. "They should reduce spending and go back within the income. The city hasn't stopped the spending spree."

Wishart said he believes the issue is dividing Claremont.

"It's a lose-lose-lose situation," he said. "The people have lost respect. It has a deep emotional impact on the people."

Committee member Joan Bunte favored an assessment district but said during the meeting: "I've had a chance to talk to a lot of people. I'm real sensitive to people not being able to afford it."

Resident Sandra Johnson said she would have supported a one-time assessment to help the city had the public been asked to vote from the beginning.

"One dollar is too much, if the people don't have a vote," she said.

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