Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/24/2010 08:29:55 PM PST

COLTON – With four of the seven seats on the City Council up for grabs, the Nov. 2 election could change the face of city leadership.

Mayor Kelly Chastain and council members Richard DeLaRosa, Susan Oliva and David Toro are all up for re-election.

With the past 12 months being some of the most tumultuous in recent memory, some say challengers will have a good shot at defeating incumbents.

“When things go bad, you blame the people at the top,” said resident Michael Garcia. “The voters are more likely to give someone else a shot.”

A split council approved a two-step electric-rate increase in March totaling about 17 percent. In May, the council voted to raise water rates each year until 2012. Once the last rate increase takes effect, customers will pay more than double what they currently pay for water and service fees.

More than 90 employees have been laid off, and several others have accepted early- retirement offers or pay cuts to deal with multimillion-dollar budget deficits. City officials attribute the shortfalls to a slumping economy that has produced huge revenue drops and state adjustments of tax allocations that further reduced the city’s income.

A new management staff has been formed after the May departure of former City Manager Daryl Parrish. Since then, the council has learned that consultants in the latter part of Parrish’s tenure were paid more than the council authorized and that the city spent $4 million more than it took in during the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Late last year, the council learned former Finance Director Dilu De Alwis, who followed Parrish to a new job in Covina, omitted more than $800,000 in expenditures from the 2009-10 budget.

“I think we’re looking at some real pathetic governing,” resident Gary Shaver said. “When they all come up for re-election, I think we need to clean house. I think for the residents it’s going to be their pocketbooks that’s going to cause the distress. I think the utility rates are grossly overcharged in Colton.”

Chastain said she’s focused on closing a projected $1.2 million structural deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and hasn’t decided if she’ll seek re-election. She voted in favor of utility-rate increases because they hadn’t been raised in years, while costs to operate the utilities had gone up. Higher rates will also pay to update antiquated electric and water infrastructure that is in dire need of improvements, she said.

“Although I have had to make some hard decisions, such as utility rates, it was always in the best long-term interest of the city and our residents,” Chastain said.

Chastain said that under her leadership safe drop-off zones at schools have been established, violent-crime rates have dropped, the Art Thompson Teen Center has been built and Veterans Park has been revamped.

Toro said he voted against utility-rate increases and pay raises for department directors during his tenure on the council. He established Internet broadcasts of city meetings and brought storm-drain improvements to Valley Boulevard between Pepper and Meridian avenues, he said. He’s unsure if he’ll seek re-election but said he is leaning toward it.

“Politics can be personally discouraging,” Toro said. “But I feel a lot of positives are going to come back in the next year.”

DeLaRosa said he’s open to re-election but that he hasn’t made a firm decision to run again. He says voters will likely be more critical given the layoffs, utility increases and economic downturn. DeLaRosa voted against the electric-rate increase, but in favor of the water-rate increase because he felt its infrastructure is in dire need of improvements.

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