Armed with nearly $4 million in new revenue from higher taxes, the Pomona City Council this week canceled the proposed layoff of 56 employees, but still eliminated 16 jobs, nine of them held by janitors who will be offered employment with a private contractor.
A month ago, City Administrator Julio Fuentes warned that a $5-million budget shortfall would require the city to lay off 72 employees, including 17 police officers, to close the city library on Mondays and to shut down two fire stations unless taxes were raised.
In approving the city's budget of $176.2 million for the fiscal year beginning Monday, the council majority opted for tax increases that will raise utility bills and fees for city services.
Councilman Tomas Ursua, who opposed most of the increases approved Monday, said, "We're making it prohibitive to live and do business in the city." But other council members said residents are willing to pay more taxes to maintain services.
The council decision means there will be no reduction in police officers on the street, no fire station closures and no cutbacks in library service.
In addition, the council Monday night restored funding to the Tri-City Mental Health Authority, whose existence had been threatened by the city administrator's recommendation that Pomona save $78,000 by relying on the county for mental health services.
The council unanimously voted to fully fund the agency, which relies on city contributions from Pomona, La Verne and Claremont to qualify it for state funding to support a $1.8-million annual budget.
Also at its Monday meeting, the council modified the utility tax it enacted June 17. The council had raised the tax on electric, gas, water and telephone bills to 10% for residents and 12% for businesses, but the council this week changed the telephone rate to a flat 10% for all.
City officials said the telephone company said that establishing a split rate would cost up to $100,000 and take as long as six months to establish. The telephone tax currently is a flat 9%.
The other utility rates, which had been 8% for residents and 10% for businesses, will be increased as scheduled July 1.
City officials said the utility tax increase will raise $3.5 million in the new fiscal year.
In addition, the City Council increased the tax on property transactions from 27.5 cents per $500 valuation to $1.10, raising $350,000 a year. On a $150,000 transaction, the tax would now be $330, compared to $82.50 previously. The council also gave preliminary approval to an ordinance changing the system of taxing contractors to raise an additional $300,000 yearly.
The council scheduled public hearings July 15 on proposals to increase fees charged for city planning services and to raise garbage collection and sanitation charges.
Robert DeLoach, public works director, has recommended that the city raise its trash collection fee for homeowners from the current $7.20 a month to $9.79. He has proposed increases in the general sanitation fee, which pays for street sweeping, graffiti removal and other maintenance programs, of $1.11 a month for residential property and $4.84 for businesses. That would raise the residential rate for sanitation to $5.76 a month and the commercial rate to $25.64.
The Police Department, which was threatened with major cutbacks, survived the budget process without any layoffs, and, in fact, will hire six new police officers to fill vacant positions. Three vacant police positions will remain unfilled.
The Fire Department will lay off two clerical employees and lose four vacant positions. It will be unable to replace a fire inspector when he retires.
Others to be laid off include the community relations coordinator, the personnel supervisor, the personnel assistant and two employees in the Community Development Department.
In addition, nine custodian positions were eliminated by a decision to hire a private contractor to provide janitorial services to City Hall, the library and the fire and police stations. The council expects to pay $195,000 a year for the private contractor's service, but to save an equal amount annually on salaries and supplies.
The contractor will be required to hire the laid-off janitors under terms that will maintain their current salaries, but not all their benefits, for six months.
The council voted to pay for medical and dental insurance for any workers who are laid off until they find new jobs, for up to six months.