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Hawthorne to Raise Rental Taxes to Hire More Police


Hawthorne city officials have killed a controversial utility users tax proposal, voting instead to boost a tax on rental property owners so the city can hire more police officers.

Rental property owners immediately criticized Monday's 4-1 council decision to tax them according to a sliding scale. They called the move haphazard and a discriminatory means to generate funds.

Owners with properties containing fewer than four units will not have to pay the tax. Annual fees for owners with five to 15 units will be $15 per unit; buildings with 16 to 26 apartments will be taxed $20 per unit, and complexes with more than 26 units will be taxed $25 per unit.

Apartment owners currently pay an annual city tax of $5 per unit.

"They are trying to place the burden of their (fiscal) mismanagement on the apartment owners," said Milton Mabry, vice president of Mabry Management Co. in Torrance, which manages 12 apartment complexes in Hawthorne.

Mabry said the sliding scale amounts to discrimination against the owners of larger properties. "We're thinking about getting legal counsel to challenge this action," Mabry said.

The ordinance, introduced by Councilman Charles W. (Chuck) Bookhammer, is intended to generate new revenues so the city can hire more police officers for parts of Hawthorne that have a high concentration of apartments. City officials say it is these areas that also have the heaviest crime.

Mayor Steven Andersen, who cast the lone dissenting vote, questioned the fairness of the sliding scale.

"I don't see the difference between a five-unit building and a 15-unit building," he said. "You can't show a graduated level of crime that parallels the progressive levels of the tax. This is unfair."

Andersen also argued that owners of four rental units or fewer should not be exempt from paying the tax because they benefit from city services.

Finance Director Tim Brown said the city hopes to generate $250,000 to $300,000 annually from the tax.

While the new tax revenue may allow the city to hire more police, apartment owners say, the sliding-scale levy will make it harder for the owners to contend with the problems they face.

"We have difficulties with delinquencies, and problems getting police to support us when we have drug dealers in our buildings," said Dennis Case, who owns three properties in Hawthorne. Two of his buildings have 60 units, the third is a 57-unit complex. "This is another expense that will result in more foreclosures, vacancies and more unkempt buildings."

Case said many apartment owners in Hawthorne want more law enforcement, but they believe the new tax is not the way to accomplish that goal.

"Owners are hanging by their fingernails already," said Case. "This may the straw that breaks the camel's back."

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