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SAN CLEMENTE | Community News Focus

Tax's Failure Prompts Reduced City Services

June 20, 1997|STEVE CARNEY

Despite pleas from some residents, the City Council passed a drastically reduced 1997-98 budget, prompted by this month's defeat of a utility tax.

The city found itself with a $2.8-million budget shortfall when Proposition 218 effectively outlawed its lighting and landscaping taxing district.

In February, the council held marathon meetings to draw up two alternative budgets: a "red budget" that eliminated $2.8 million worth of city jobs and services, and a "green budget" that cut $1 million less. The City Council hoped to make up the difference in the green budget with a 2.5% utility tax put before the voters June 3.

But the tax lost, 5,105 to 3,577. And at Wednesday's meeting, council members voted 5-0 to pass the red budget. They said the voters made their choice clear--fewer city services rather than a new tax.

"I bought a Lotto ticket today and thought, 'Hmmm,' " Councilwoman Lois R. Berg said, drawing laughs from the audience of about 60. "But we are simply fated to do what we must do."

Most of the 23 residents who spoke at the meeting asked the council to reconsider the planned cuts.

They particularly opposed closing the softball complex at Richard T. Steed Memorial Park and moving police dispatch from City Hall to the Sheriff's Department main center many miles away.

Jim Hill, a 13-year resident and outspoken critic of the tax, challenged the council to trim from other areas, leaving the park and local dispatching alone. "Step up to your fiduciary responsibilities," he said.

"Don't just cut because you promised to cut," former Councilman Tom Lorch said.

Mayor Patrick M. Ahle countered: "Last February this council gave its word to the community. You're asking us not to keep that word. I just can't do that."

The city's 1997-98 general-fund budget is down 0.5% from last year to $21.7 million, while expected revenue is up 0.9% from 1996-97, to $20.9 million.

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