13-VOTE LOSS LOOKS, UM, UNLUCKY FOR BELLFLOWER’S QUALITY OF LIFEBy Arnold Adler
Now that the defeat of a proposed two-percent hike in the utility tax is official—it lost a recount of the Nov. 2 referendum by 13 votes—the Bellflower City Council begins the job of dismantling many of the city’s crucial public services. The five-man panel has unanimously instructed city staff to report back Jan. 13 with enough suggested budget cuts to offset a deficit that is expected to reach $1.4 million.
“The voters have spoken,” said Mayor Ray Dunton. “We must go back to the drawing board and figure out how to stop the bleeding. We will have to live with [reduced spending].”
Finance Director Tae Rhee said the city budget has a $9 million reserve but at least $8 million will be needed in the 2011-12 fiscal year as cash flow to pay for daily operations. That leaves just $1 million for emergencies or contingencies, he said.
In anticipation of this predicament, the City Council had unanimously proposed a temporary increase in the utility tax—from 5 percent to 7 percent for a period of five years.
The council’s first action after citizens narrowly rejected the plan was to unanimously vote to continue the existing five percent levy. An annual review of the utility tax is required by the 1993 ordinance which established it and the 1997 voter confirmation. No one spoke against it.
Public Safety Director Joel Hockman said the five percent tax on the monthly electric, natural gas and communications bills will generate about $4.1 million a year, of which about 80 percent will go for community policing and 20 percent for capitol improvements. The total public safety spending in the past year was about $10.8 million, he said.
Dunton said even though the community policing plan has resulted in the lowest crime rate in 40 years, public safety makes up about half of the general fund budget and cannot escape cuts.