LA City Hall's Money Squeeze: Higher Fees and Taxes

Council looks for every last dollar to cover worsening budget deficit

Desperately seeking cash to cover a growing deficit, the LA City Council is looking at putting in more street cleaning signs and parking meters, and charging everyone for the cost of 911 emergency calls and selling "insurance" for ambulance services.

Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller admitted there's "very little that's left" to squeeze out of the public without voter approval and made it clear the total revenue the proposals would generate would not make much of a dent in the $400 million budget shortfall for next year.
A report on possible cuts in spending is due shortly.

In an oddly candid moment, Budget and Finance Chairman Bernard Parks suggested Miller and Interim Chief Administrative Officer Ray Ciranna conduct a kind of serial council meeting by talking to members and their staffs to determine which of proposed fees and taxes have broad support.

"What we need is some general comments from you as to some of the items to which the council would feel comfortable moving forward on," Parks said. "Flesh out if there's no sentiment as to moving forward."

He also suggested the possibility of requiring telephone companies be required to put new cell towers atop existing utility poles on main thoroughfares.

"I hate to say this publicly because it gives people ideas about lawsuits," he said.

Some of the revenue proposals would require ballot measures, possibly in May when turnout will be extremely light, while others could be enacted by the council.

Among those would be a "user fee" for the costs of traffic law enforcement. It could conceivably bring in $30 million a year under the city's so-called "full cost recovery policy" that was used to justify trash fees of $35 a month on single-family residences. But Miller noted the county would have to agree to that and courts tend to reduce costs for some violators.

Another drop of revenue could come from posting street sweeping signs in much of the city to generate money from illegal parking tickets but it would net only about $400,000 per 100 miles of street signs.

Then there's the idea of imposing a monthly for a so-called "insurance" policy to cover the full costs of ambulance services which now go largely uncollected.

The biggest revenue source which could generate $65 million a year would be to add a $2.25 a month charge for every phone line in the city to cover the costs of providing 911 emergency service centers.

Voters also would have to approve an increase in the hotel tax to generate $5 million and a tax on oil produced in the city that would bring in $1.8 million.

"Every week we should come up with new ways we can increase our revenue," said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel who is running for City Controller, adding that should also be done "on the cutting side."

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