SOUTH PASADENA — Residents could see significant cuts in public services if property values and sales tax revenue continue to sag, according to a private audit of municipal operations.
Released earlier this month and discussed at a five-hour City Council session Monday, the audit warned that the city must widen its revenue base and cut costs to avoid a reduction of public services.
"Any downturn in real estate values or sales taxes (is) going to have an immediate and significant impact in this community," said Nick Conway of the consulting firm Hughes, Heiss & Associates. "This city is going to have a significant challenge in the next 36 months."
In response, Mayor Evelyn Fierro said Wednesday she is proposing that the council follow the report's recommendation of a residents task force on finance. "If we want to remain a full-service city . . . we have to pay for it," Fierro said.
The audit also suggested renewal of the 4% utility users' tax and creation of a tax assessment district to fund sidewalk, curb and street repairs.
Although he supports the task force, Mayor Pro Tem Dick Richards said the city is not "on brink of disaster." Likewise, Councilman James S. Woollacott Jr. said: "To me (the report) proves we've done pretty darn well. That is not to say we couldn't do better."
On the positive side, the audit said the city provides good police and fire services. But the audit's proposed staffing changes, criticized by police and fire chiefs, would eliminate by attrition either the police staff commander or a lieutenant, with a potential savings of $74,000 per year.
Police Chief William Reese, who agreed to pursue potential cost-cutting measures such as contracting with Pasadena for jail services and sharing dispatch operations with San Marino, balked at reducing his staff.
Fire Chief Bart Carroll objected to the audit's suggestion that a battalion chief or captain be added instead of the three firefighters authorized for this year. The consultants contend that three more firefighters won't necessarily improve services, while a battalion chief or captain could aid in training and supervision.
Carroll disagreed, saying even one extra firefighter can make the difference between a fire being extinguished or burning out of control.
The report was highly critical of the South Pasadena Public Library, calling it barely adequate and saying that a major infusion of capital is needed to raise the library to an average level.
City Librarian Mary Lou Wigley supported the report's recommendations on expanding and renewing the library's book and multimedia collections. But to increase the percentage of library cardholders in the city, she said, "we need to have something to sell."
The study uncovered few deficiencies with the city's Planning and Building Department but said the city is not adequately enforcing zoning laws.
The Public Works Department was the focus of several recommendations, including creation of new positions to relieve heavy managerial demands on Public Works Director Ed Schroder.
Hirano is South Pasadena community correspondent. Hudson is a staff writer.