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City Hall News : COVINA : Anti-Tax Council Moves Toward Fire Fee

August 18, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Covina City Council members, who helped recall the entire previous council last year for implementing a utility tax, took the first step Tuesday toward enacting a fire assessment fee that would cost the average homeowner nearly twice as much as that tax.

Led by Mayor Thomas O'Leary, a leader in last July's successful recall effort, the council in a 3-2 vote approved an engineer's report outlining a proposed Fire Suppression Assessment District to pay for the Fire Department. The council also directed that a public hearing be held on the issue in the next two months.

If the council gives final approval to the assessment after the hearing, the average homeowner would pay $265 a year--about $23 a month--compared to an average of $12.60 under the 6% utility tax rescinded last winter, city officials said.

"A fire assessment district is the best way for this city to keep up the quality of service in our Fire Department," O'Leary said. "This city must by next July come up with a way to maintain services."

Over the objections of their former allies in the anti-tax movement, O'Leary and council members Linda Sarver and Thomas Falls voted to proceed with the required public hearing. Councilmen John Wilcox and Chris Christiansen dissented.

The $4.5 million that would be generated by the assessment would allow funds going to fire services to be used to shore up the ailing budget of the city, whose reserves have been depleted since the city abandoned the utility tax.

"It's deja vu . It's just another tax and this time it's going to cost a lot of us twice as much," said Hank Vagt, a leader of last year's recall whose group helped elect O'Leary, Sarver and Falls.

Vagt and others in the city's various anti-tax groups, who gave momentum to last year's successful recall of all five council members, say this council is moving toward getting recalled itself if it does not cut the city budget or tries to implement any increase in taxes or fees without the approval of voters.

But O'Leary said he supports a fire assessment because--unlike a utility tax--it requires the public's input before it can be implemented.

Under state law, if the owners of more than 10% of Covina's property object to the assessment, the council must put the issue on the ballot. The law also says the city must abandon the idea if owners of more than 50% of the property object.

O'Leary also said that unlike the previous council, this council--under his leadership--is holding numerous town hall meetings and public hearings to discuss all the options for rescuing the financially troubled city. The options include a utility tax--favored by supporters of the former council--and allowing the city's first card club.

However, two weeks ago, O'Leary, Christiansen and Falls voted not to put either a utility tax or a card club on the November ballot, moving the city instead toward a fire assessment.

Vagt said many of Covina's largest property owners have already told him they will object to the fire assessment. "We've stopped a landscape and lighting assessment district before a few years back and we'll stop this," Vagt said.

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