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Council Says It Won't Raise Taxes to Cover Budget Deficit : Finances: Potential $10-million shortfall will have to be resolved by cutting expenses and programs, officials say. City pay increases will be among casualties.

March 05, 1992|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — After several years of turning to tax and fee increases to help them weather financial difficulties, city leaders appear poised to cut programs to balance the next budget.

And with local elections just around the corner, the City Council is asking City Manager James C. Hankla to prepare budget plans that would eliminate a potential $10-million deficit without raising taxes or resorting to other "revenue enhancements," such as new fees.

"Cutting expenses, in my opinion, is the only option," Councilman Douglas Drummond declared shortly before the council voted 6 to 2 Tuesday to steer clear of new taxes. "It's time to get tough."

Council members are being pressured to avoid tax hikes by recession-battered businesses and residents. The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is even preparing its own recommendations for municipal budget cuts.

But the council vote is only a signal of intentions. The council is just beginning to turn its attention to shaping a budget, and a change of direction is possible over the next several months.

A combination of tax increases and spending cuts has carried the city through the last few years of fiscal troubles without seriously hurting municipal services. But Hankla has conceded that the next round of budget reductions will leave some scars. City workers can also forget about any pay raises.

"This is not going to be the year of pay increases," Mayor Ernie Kell said.

The two councilmen who voted against the motion, Ray Grabinski and Warren Harwood, complained that it was tying the hands of budget writers. "This shows the littlest amount of imagination possible," Grabinski said.

Both Grabinski and Harwood said the motion might prevent the city from tapping into the port of Long Beach's hefty profits to cover expenses such as seawall repairs and marine patrols in the tidelands areas--a move Harwood in particular has long advocated.

Councilman Wallace Edgerton was absent.

The looming deficit was not the only bad news the council got this week. Hankla also presented a report highlighting a long and costly list of maintenance and repairs that the city needs to undertake but cannot afford.

The only way the work will get done, city management has concluded, is if assessment districts are created to require property owners to help pay for such things as street lights and sidewalk repairs.

"The time may now be at hand for property owners to begin bearing a greater share of the cost for infrastructure maintenance and improvements," the report says.

The council will discuss the document in committee.

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