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San Bernardino's choice: raise tax or cut cops

June 30, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
San Bernardino lawmakers are facing a budget crisis, and could approve a proposal that calls for layoffs of more than a hundred police officers and firefighters. It'll be up to the voters to choose between layoffs and higher taxes this November.Like most cities, San Bernardino is facing a dire financial situation, one that could require severe cuts.

Take the police department, for example. In a worst-case scenario, it could have its patrol force cut in half.

"It would be a huge impact to the city. Obviously the city has to set its priorities, they have to decide what's important to the city, and we'll police the city with whatever level of law enforcement they give us," said Sgt. Richard Lawhead, president of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association.

According to a report by the city manager, a worst-case scenario might include cutting 101 police officer positions, 23 firefighter positions, and closing three public libraries.

There are ways to prevent some of these cuts. But Mayor Pat Morris says city officials can't bridge a $24-million deficit alone.

"We're going to ask the city to join us, the residents to join us in discussing how we move this city in a new direction, and that takes additional resources," said Morris. "Meaning we look for opportunities for revenue enhancements."

Asked if she'd be willing to increase taxes to keep officers on the streets, San Bernardino resident Etta James said, "Well, I don't work right now so, I couldn't pay."

"If we had taxes to give, yeah, we would probably help support more," said San Bernardino resident Marilyn Bliss. "I'm unemployed also. It's tough."

City officials held a budget meeting Wednesday, and another is scheduled for Thursday night. But regardless of what they decide, officials say it's very likely that voters will have to decide whether to increase taxes to save some of these positions.


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