Threatened by deteriorating neighborhoods and a drop in police and fire protection, a divided City Council voted Tuesday to put the matter of a bailout utility tax for the cash-strapped city before the voters in November.
"My big concern is to let the people know where we are at and ask the people who pay the bills what do we do," Councilman Frank Kessler said. "I'm not saying I'm interested in raising taxes. I want the community to tell me what it wants me to do."
Whether the citywide vote will be binding on the council or merely advisory depends on research of "very complicated legal problems," Kessler said. The utility tax issue is scheduled to come back to the council for a final decision on June 16.
Plagued by a slump in sales revenue and an inability to raise new revenue, the city is facing a $6-million shortfall for the fiscal year starting July 1. To close the gap, City Manager George Tindall has proposed eliminating more than 50 jobs--including police, fire and code enforcement officers--and making sharp cutbacks at after-school playgrounds and in other programs.
Garden Grove provides services at below-minimal levels while having major gang and crime problems, Kessler said. Yet the Police Department has the lowest number of officers per capita of any city in Orange County, he said.
Kessler was joined by Mayor W.E. (Walt) Donovan and Councilman Robert F. Dinsen, a consistent tax critic, in voting to put the utility tax on the ballot.
Donovan has accused his colleagues of not having "the guts" to vote for the tax and said the city is in danger of becoming "a damned slum" without it.
Councilmen Mark Leyes and J. Tilman Williams voted against sending the issue to the voters.
Kessler lamented that all of the city's sales and property taxes combined are insufficient to finance the Police Department.
He also said he is especially concerned that large groups of people are living together in some residences without paying property taxes. A utility tax of possibly $10 a month would ensure "they pay something for the services they get," he said.