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Legislature Leaves Cities Little Reason to Celeberate : Budgets: Most leaders plan a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to make up for what they will lose to the state.

June 27, 1993|TINA GRIEGO | TIMES STAFF WRITER. This story was reported by Times staff writers Howard Blume, Jill Gottesman, Duke Helfand and Roxana Kopetman, and community correspondents Emily Adams, Psyche Pascual and Suzan Schill

LONG BEACH AREA — If you had plans to take the family to Lakewood's annual Fourth of July fireworks show, cancel them now. If you live in Whittier, Downey or Paramount, you can expect to pay a little more in taxes for utilities. And no matter what city you call home, chances are your local library will be closing earlier and more often.

It is budget time, and for the second year in a row, the Legislature is performing its rendition of Robin Hood: stealing from the poor to give to the hard up. This year it means taking a total of $2.6 billion from local governments and giving it to the schools.

Last week, even before the scope of the cuts was clear, most Southeast-area city leaders were planning a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to compensate for whatever they must give to the state.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that the state was in deep trouble and wasn't doing anything about it," La Mirada City Manager Gary K. Sloan said.

Anticipating that the state would siphon funds, La Mirada city leaders laid off 10 employees. The $15,000 fireworks show in Lakewood was doused. Downey residents will pay 2% more in utility taxes. And in some cities, fewer police officers may patrol the streets.

The area's largest city, Long Beach, will make it through the budget crunch relatively unscathed since it can tap into the reserves of its wealthy Harbor Department to compensate for losses.

But chances are most area residents will find that their city-owned buildings are not as clean as they used to be, or that the trees along the main boulevards are getting shaggy, potholes are turning into craters, and there are fewer people at City Hall to complain to because employees have been laid off.

While many city leaders noted that they will not have to give the state as much as they did last year, in these tough economic times, anything the state takes is too much. Also, several city administrators said, the money they lose to the state, together with the programs and services the money paid for, will probably never be replenished.

"The current state budget is a disaster for local government and taxpayers and is a triumph of political expediency . . . and anyone who isn't outraged by it is wearing a blindfold," said Don Waldie, a Lakewood spokesman.

Almost a dozen Southeast-area cities, such as Bellflower and Artesia, will be spared the brunt of the cuts because the state is taking property taxes and those cities do not receive property taxes. However, many of these same cities rely on Los Angeles County to provide law enforcement and fire services and run their libraries and parks. The county is expected to lose at least $273 million--money it will have to make up with service cuts and fee increases.

"We're not losing property tax money, so that makes it sound like Bellflower is sitting pretty, but that's not the case," said Ben Harvey, an aide to the city administrator. "Since we rely on county services, any hit they take is going to affect us."

According to a preliminary list prepared by county Supervisor Gloria Molina's office, libraries in Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, Montebello and Pico Rivera will have their hours reduced. Some will be open just two days a week. Funding for juvenile delinquency programs run by the city of South Gate and the Bell Gardens Police Department may be reduced, and juvenile and adult gang programs could be eliminated in Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy and Huntington Park.

In addition to taking property taxes, the state also wants a share of cities' redevelopment agency money. Although the amount is expected to be a fraction of what the state took last year, several cities already are predicting that redevelopment projects will be delayed.

City leaders said that will mean a delay in creating new businesses at a time when jobs are desperately needed.

"Because (the state) is picking our city pockets the way they are, we have to cut back--not on essential services, but on the quality of life here," said Lakewood Mayor Larry Van Nostran.

Here is a brief look at what Southeast cities are facing:

Artesia

The city will be spared some of the fiscal pain inflicted on its neighbors because it does not receive property-tax revenue and does not have a redevelopment agency. Nevertheless, City Manager Paul J. Philips warned that increased costs and a drop in revenue from other sources will force the city to tighten its belt in the coming fiscal year.

The city's $4.5-million general fund for 1993-94 does not include any capital improvement projects. Nine vacant positions will remain unfilled, Philips said. The city probably will continue a freeze on employee salaries and could consider reductions in recreation programs, he added.

Bell

Officials plan to delay a reduction in the 10% tax on utilities to offset the loss of $270,000 in property taxes to the state. The city was scheduled to reduce the tax to 8% this year and 6% next year.

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