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HIGHER PAYROLLS SAP CITY FUNDS : SERVICES DECLINED DESPITE FEE HIKES.

Byline: Beth Barrett Daily News Staff Writer c.1997 Los Angeles Daily News

Voters had said less not more, but Los Angeles city government still needed more money.

With the limits on property tax revenues that came out of Proposition 13, officials had to rethink their budget formula to get more money. A big part of what emerged was the fee-for-service model.

The numbers tell the story.

From a government that budgeted $65 million from fees, licenses, permits and fines in 1977, L.A. now expects to get $342 million a year - a 426 percent increase.

City residents and businesses pick up most of that bill, with $50 million coming from fees to the Airports and Harbor departments, city officials say.

Some examples illustrate the shift: the business tax grew 22 percent, taxes were added to utilities, and new sewer and refuse-related fees add nearly $300 a year to each household, according to officials and budget documents.

Those fees and other levies came as city officials generally rejected employee layoffs in the face of growing union strength after the state's Meyers-Milias-Brown Act imposed bargaining on public entities in 1969.

The city, however, independently adopted the Employee Relations Ordinance in 1971, which gives employees more chances to make their cases under a ``fact-finding'' process rare among governments, said Thomas Sisson, assistant city administrative officer.

``That period really set the framework and stage for the current relationship between unions and city officials,'' Sisson said.

Today, 23 unions represent 98 percent of the city's work force.

``Elected officials don't want to see a person laid off their job,'' said Ed Corser, assistant city administrative officer. ``They see another person on welfare.

``It's not like the Bank of America. (City officials) see an economic value to people having a job.''

With collective bargaining, the city ceased to benchmark salaries to the private sector.

``You'd survey hundreds of companies and the general movement might be 5 percent or so, and then the unions would use that as a floor,'' said Paul Cauley, a chief administrative analyst in the CAO's employee relations division. ``You can get into a real donnybrook with the unions doing that.''

For that and other reasons, there are some disparities.

Clerical workers, for instance, averaged up to 5.5 percent annual increases, and police officers just over 5.0 percent.

Clerks now earn an average $33,418, compared with private sector clerks who average $25,000 to $30,000, according to the 1996 California Benchmark Compensation and Benefit Trends Survey by William M. Mercer Inc.

In 1985, the city upgraded 3,000 jobs held mostly by women, setting salaries between 10 percent and 15 percent higher to bring them in line with similarly valued jobs held by men.

John Wyrough, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 36, said the city hoped similar gains would follow in the private sector.

``But, the `pink ghetto' to a large extent still exists there,'' he said.

Deferred or diminished

The financial pressures often came to rest on municipal services, which in many cases were deferred or diminished.

Deferred maintenance of sewers and streets led to a crumbling infrastructure that costs the city tens of millions of dollars each year in emergency repairs.

And staffing of some nonpolice agencies such as the library and parks departments is near its lowest point in 15 years.

``You saw increases in fees and cutbacks in services,'' said Bill McCarley, who retired last month as general manager of the Department of Water and Power. McCarley was a top city official when Proposition 13 was passed and the city made its first hard choices about what to cut.

The initial answer, McCarley said, was to put off street paving and sewer maintenance - but that bought the city only limited time before it was faced with more tough decisions.

``I was an assistant CAO in charge of capital projects, and the first thing you do is cut back on the construction and maintenance of capital projects, sewers and streets, the whole infrastructure, because nobody wants to lay anybody off or to make the tough decisions to reduce service levels,'' he said.

``But that tends to catch up with you later with things like the sewer system. . . . The water system is going to require hundreds of millions, perhaps even a billion dollars of improvements during the next five years. Some of the sewers are 80 years old or more.''

The city's 6,500 miles of streets decayed to the point where the ``unmet maintenance'' cost is estimated at $3 billion.

It will take more than a quarter-of-a-century to rebuild the roads that have deteriorated beyond where routine repairs will save them, said Deputy City Engineer Bradley Smith.

Deferred maintenance of the city's sewer collection system adds up to about $500 million, said Wayne Savaria, division engineer for program management in the Bureau of Engineering.

That includes 62 miles of large, or ``primary,'' sewer lines that are in ``very poor condition'' with severe cracks, holes, corrosion or tree root infiltration, engineering records show.

This year, only 11 miles of ``primary'' line are scheduled for reconstruction, said Gil Garnas, city principal sanitary engineer. The city also may be forced to build a new line under downtown, costing even more, he said.

``We let the streets and sewers go,'' Corser said. ``We put off repairing and maintaining the sewer system. We fought the federal government, we didn't win. But we had waited so long that the sewer was falling apart and we had to tax ourselves.

``We let our streets go for so long that they started dying,'' he added.

Efforts by Mayor Richard Riordan to finance more street maintenance have meant spending up to $20 million more a year to increase repaving from 100 to 200 miles a year, said Bureau of Street Maintenance Interim Director Gregory Scott.

At that rate, it will take about 25 years to catch up.

Gas taxes finance much of that work, along with funds from such departments as transportation, forcing delays in traffic signal maintenance and sign repair.

Other cuts

The city also either failed to get back to pre-1978 service levels or to ``full service standards'' it set for itself in other areas. That resulted, in large part, from deep service cuts in the 1980s.

By 1987 violent and serious crime had risen more than 30 percent, but the Los Angeles Police Department had 30 fewer officers.

The police force hit its low in 1983, with 6,900 sworn officers, or about 2.3 per 1,000 residents. The average among top-10 U.S. cities is 2.9, according to CAO records. Now the rate in L.A. is about 2.7.

The city's Fire Department, meanwhile, was cut from 1,653 firefighters in 1977 to just about 1,300 by 1987.

Library positions dipped by 300 between 1980 and 1983, before federal and state funding reinstated many jobs, while branch library hours were cut.

The Recreation and Parks Department cut 60 program directors and closed 10 pools that were in disrepair during the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

Facilities that had been open 60 to 84 hours a week were cut to 36 to 56. Expansion of weekly street sweeping was virtually abandoned, and some streets were cleaned every five weeks - 20 percent below the service standard.

Streets were put on an 108-year repaving and maintenance cycle. By 1991, it took an average of 32 days to get a streetlight fixed.

And many departments still haven't recovered.

More needed

City Librarian Susan Goldberg Kent needs $1 million to keep Central Library open Sunday afternoons - and to add the same hours for the city's eight regional libraries.

The regional library branches are open 46 hours, six days a week, while the 58 branch libraries are open 40 hours, six days a week - or 25 hours less than the ``full service standard.''

Recreation and park facilities are open 38 hours per week, compared with a 64-hour standard, according to CAO records.

Deputy Fire Chief Donald Anthony needs $2 million to build two temporary fire stations in the northeast San Fernando Valley, and $1 million to reduce emergency response times, which are among the worst in the city.

Marilyn McGuire, who oversees trash pickup, needs radios for 60 percent of the city's garbage trucks so that supervisors don't have to chase them down when drivers miss a pickup or need to be redirected.

The Department of Transportation needs more traffic signal inspectors, which were recommended in a $197,000 study last year.

In 1977, there were 27,000 signal inspections made; last year, 4,000.

``Routine maintenance (of signals) has decreased,'' said Thomas Conner, Department of Transportation assistant general manager.

``We also used to have 21 individual responsibility zones where painters went through each day replacing old signs or those with graffiti on them,'' he said.

``Now we're at 11,'' he added. ``That's not enough for our standards.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Workers lay asphalt on Rinaldi Street in Mission Hills. Budget cuts have left street maintenance and other infrastructure below targeted standards for many years.

Bob Halvorsen/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 23, 1997
Words:1525
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