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Huntington Park to Use Drug Funds to Hire 7 Officers

July 05, 1990|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON PARK — This financially strapped city will use hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug forfeiture money during 1990-91 to pay for seven new sworn officers and six other police employees to fight rising crime.

The thirteen employees, as well as equipment for them, represent the only significant new expense authorized by the City Council during a series of recent budget meetings. Those meetings concluded Monday, when the council approved a $30-million austerity budget.

The council decided to use the forfeiture money, which was seized during drug busts involving Huntington Park police, when it became apparent that there was not enough money in the city's general fund to pay for the additional officers.

Cities usually avoid using uncertain funding sources to pay for ongoing expenses such as police officers or other personnel, according to city officials. If the Huntington Park Police Department, for example, is not involved in any large drug busts in the next year, the flow of forfeiture funds could slow to a trickle.

Huntington Park has $1.4 million in forfeiture money, about $1.25 million of which came from a record cocaine bust at a Sylmar warehouse last year, Police Chief Patrick M. Connolly said.

The additional seven officers, plus five jailers, a records clerk and the new guns, radios and other equipment for them, will cost the city about $1.2 million a year, Connolly said. Once the forfeiture money runs out, the city will have to find additional funding or lay off the officers.

City officials are hoping that sales tax and other revenue will increase enough to keep the officers, but they are not counting on it.

"It's a terrible problem," Mayor Thomas E. Jackson said. "We're going to go into a program that we have no visible means of continuing. We're hoping that the effect of this program will be so overwhelming that we might run most of the bad guys out of town."

Hiring more police officers has been a priority of city officials. Crime has been rising in Huntington Park, which has plenty of gang activity and one of the highest auto theft rates in the nation.

Its Police Department will have 67 sworn officers with the new positions. The city's population is about 52,000, and it has fewer officers per 1,000 residents than the average city in California, according to a recent study by UC Berkeley.

In late 1987, financial problems forced the city to eliminate three police positions, along with positions in other departments.

The council tried to obtain funding for 15 more officers last year when it put a measure on the ballot that would have imposed a 7% utility tax to raise $2.7 million. But the measure was defeated at the polls. All four major candidates in last April's election called for more police during their campaigns.

It will be about six months before the new officers are on the streets, Connolly said.

The city will spend about $10 million from its general fund, which is closely watched because it pays most city salaries. The city should finish the year with a general fund reserve of $590,000, Chief Administrative Officer Donald L. Jeffers said.

The rest of the money in the $30-million budget is earmarked to pay for the cost of operating the municipal water system and the city's dial-a-ride program, and to maintain city streets, among other things.

"Hopefully, this will give the city the opportunity to begin building an appropriate reserve," Jeffers told the council in a report. "This money could disappear quickly in the event of an emergency."

There was not enough money to rehire any of the 25 employees who were laid off last October when the city moved to cut spending further.

"It's a very bare-bones budget," Councilman Luis Hernandez said. "We're betting that things do turn around in the city in the next two years."

The loss of federal revenue sharing and several auto dealerships, which provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tax revenue, have hurt the city in recent years. In addition, the city was forced to lend its Redevelopment Agency more than $15 million in recent years to pay off bond debt.

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