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City Rejects Tax for Fire Services as Budget Fix : Finances: The assessment, which would have cost homeowners about $25 annually, had been proposed to help offset an expected $6.4-million shortfall in 1993-94 revenues.

June 03, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — In an unexpected move Tuesday, the City Council unanimously rejected the proposed formation of a citywide fire assessment district on a technical issue, saying time has grown too short to consider the controversial tax.

The action halts a proposal that could have levied an annual fee of $25.50 on the typical single-family household and up to $453.50 a year for a heavy manufacturing plant.

The assessment district was one of a series of proposals the city was considering to offset an expected $6.4-million shortfall in revenues to balance a projected $325-million budget for 1993-94.

The preliminary budget anticipates a shortfall of $3.2 million caused by a shift of property tax revenues from the city to the state, and an additional $3.2 million stemming from wage increases for city employees under union contracts.

A cut in property tax revenues to cities throughout the state is proposed by the governor and Legislature to make up a $2.6-billion gap in the state budget.

A fire district is among only a few options permitted by the state to raise new municipal tax revenues to support services in the wake of 1978's Proposition 13 property tax limitation initiative.

Glendale officials also are considering raising fees for utilities, sewers, trash and other services, cutbacks and layoffs in staffing, and reductions in city programs such as libraries, parks and street maintenance.

Fire Department officials proposed the assessment district earlier this year in an effort to raise $1.2 million--the department's share of an expected 7% reduction in the city's service expenditure budget for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. Those funds are needed just to maintain current firefighting capabilities, officials said.

Council approval was needed Tuesday to authorize a technical step in the formation of an assessment district in order to impose the tax on property owners when bills are mailed by the county tax collector later this year.

Council members instead rejected the proposal, saying they have not yet decided if the tax should be imposed and, if so, how much money is needed to be raised.

"We're all out of sync," said Councilwoman Eileen Givens, who pointed out that the fire assessment district was among a series of number-crunching alternatives still being considered by the council before a final budget is adopted on June 22.

An all-day budget study session by the council is scheduled for Monday.

The assessment proposal would have required the council to approve spending $5,000 for an engineering report on an assessment district and preparation of notices of a proposed tax that would have to be sent to all property owners in the city by June 11. The mailing would have cost another $10,444, officials said.

But officials had not determined how much of an assessment should be levied. The Fire Department had proposed assessing an annual fee of $25.50 on a typical single-family home to make up the full $1.2-million shortfall in the department's budget.

However, department officials said Tuesday that the typical fee could have been reduced to as low as $10.38, if other reductions also are made in non-emergency services.

Council members said the impending deadline was just too close to determine how the city will balance its budget.

"We've reached the end of the road for this year," Councilman Sheldon Baker said. "But I fear we may be facing (an assessment district issue) again in a year."

Mayor Larry Zarian said he has been opposed all along to imposing a new property tax to balance the city's budget. Other members said they, too, need to further study alternatives.

"We're opening a door and it could get worse every year," Councilwoman Mary Ann Plumley said.

City Manager David H. Ramsay said that "every decision has consequences." He warned that eliminating the fire assessment district as a money-raising alternative "only makes other decisions harder."

Without the fire assessment tax, the city may have to trim 15 Fire Department positions from the current staff of 175, which already has been reduced by 12 positions since a citywide hiring freeze was imposed 16 months ago, Fire Chief Richard Hinz said.

The cutbacks could require that one of the city's nine fire stations be closed daily, on a rotating basis, causing increases in response times to emergencies to as much as 20 minutes under some circumstances, according to officials.

During a lengthy budget study session last week, council members asked the Fire Department to determine how much of a cut it could withstand by trimming non-emergency expenses without affecting fire-suppression capabilities.

Hinz on Tuesday said about $500,000 could be cut from the department's budget for maintenance and operations, engineers and clerical staff.

Ramsay told council members this week that, rather than across-the-board cuts originally proposed for all city departments, a series of alternatives are being considered to meet the city's funding crisis while minimizing the impact on safety services such as police and fire protection.

Monday's budget study session will begin at 8 a.m. in the city manager's conference room at City Hall, 613 E. Broadway.

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