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Cutbacks, Fee Hikes Allow for 50 More Police : Spending: The $1.69-billion plan trims nearly every department except police, and increases fees for water, sewer, gas, trash and recycling.

June 27, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Under pressure from neighborhood leaders, the City Council found a hodgepodge of spending cuts in its 1993-94 budget to help free up $4 million to hire 50 more police officers.

The $1.69-billion budget, approved by the council last week, takes effect July 1. The new officers, who must be recruited and trained, are expected to be on the job within six months.

The budget also includes fee increases to pay for higher operating expenses unrelated to police. They include a 17.2% increase in water rates, an 11.6% increase in sewer fees, a 5% increase in gas fees, a 5.1% increase in garbage collection fees and a 3.28% increase in recycling fees. The average family will pay about $6 extra a month, officials said.

The 50 officers will boost the size of the Police Department by 7%. Currently, the force is authorized to have 741 sworn officers, including the police chief, but 10 positions are vacant, a spokesman said.

City Manager James C. Hankla called the increase in officers significant and said it will be felt on the streets. He said the related spending cuts should result in few "noticeable service changes" to the public. Aside from police protection, no other area of city services will be expanded.

The decision to hire 50 more officers drew strong criticism from community leaders who wanted the city to hire 300.

"It will still leave the city seriously under-policed," said Bill Pearl, president of the East Long Beach Homeowners Assn. "It will cost lives and jobs and neighborhoods."

Pearl said he and other community leaders will work to place a ballot measure before city voters to provide more officers. Pearl declined to say whether the measure would seek a special tax or compel the city to spend more of its money on police.

A measure to impose a special tax probably would be destined for failure. Long Beach voters in November rejected a special tax proposal to pay for 100 officers, the second time in recent years that such a measure has failed.

City officials agree that Long Beach could use more police. With a population of 437,800, the city has a ratio of about 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents. The ratio is lower than that of many major cities, including Los Angeles, which has slightly more than two officers per 1,000 residents, officials said.

In addition, Long Beach is expanding its community-based policing program, which puts a greater demand on the department's officers.

Nevertheless, the city could not afford 300 new officers, council members said. So they spent much of their two budget sessions last week debating how many officers could be hired.

Half of the council wanted to hire 50 more officers, while the rest wanted 100. The deadlock was broken when Hankla suggested approving the 50 officers now, and considering hiring 50 more in six months.

"I think we all know we could use more police officers, but I did not want to sacrifice any more programs," said Councilman Evan Anderson Braude. "I'm going to be very skeptical about any (more) cuts that may be proposed."

Braude was joined by council members Thomas J. Clark, Douglas S. Drummond, Alan S. Lowenthal and Doris Topsy-Elvord in voting for the 50 officers.

Vice Mayor Jeffrey A. Kellogg, and Councilmen Warren Harwood and Les Robbins wanted to add 100 officers.

"All we hear is this is our No. 1 problem and we need to deal with it," Harwood said. "We fell short in dealing with it."

Councilman Ray Grabinski was attending his son's high school graduation and missed the vote.

The council took the following actions to pay for the 50 officers:

* It approved about $1.8 million in spending cuts in every city department except the Police Department.

The cuts include reductions in overtime for some firefighters for a savings of $460,000, which officials contend will have no significant effect on services.

Cuts of more than $330,000 to the city's Public Works Department will mean delays in street resurfacing. And about $154,000 in cuts in library services could translate into fewer librarians on any given day and delays in replacing books and other materials.

* The council required the city's Redevelopment Agency to make larger loan payments to the city's general fund. The Redevelopment Agency, which owes the city $68 million, will now pay $1.15 million a year more. The city lent the money to the Redevelopment Agency in the mid-1970s to promote redevelopment.

Hankla said the higher annual payment would not have an immediate effect on the Redevelopment Agency but might delay future projects.

* It raised the city's bed tax on hotels and motels from 11% to 12% to raise about $500,000 a year.

* It eliminated Civic Center parking validation except for people attending City Council meetings or visiting the library. The new parking fees are expected to generate about $190,000 a year.

* The council reduced a proposed 5% pay raise for management employees to 3%, for an annual savings of about $200,000. (The budget also includes a 3% raise for other city employees.)

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