10:49 PM PST on Sunday, March 6, 2011

By GENE GHIOTTO
The Press-Enterprise

Canyon Lake council members will decide Thursday whether to ask residents to pay a public safety tax to support police and fire protection services.

The tax is being proposed as the city grapples with how to cover the increasing costs of emergency services at the same time that city revenues have decreased.

If approved by voters, the tax would generate about $960,000 annually based on a charge of $204 for each developed residential and commercial parcel and $96 for each unimproved parcel.

“It is designed, if passed, to cover about one-third of the police and fire contracts,” Mayor Barry Talbot said. The general fund would still continue to pay two-thirds of the costs.

A report to the council indicated the tax is needed because the city is losing ground in the effort to maintain the current level of service.

It points to a 30 percent decline in property and other taxes as a result of foreclosures and the property reassessments, while also saying that the cost of firefighter/paramedic service is increasing.

To balance the current budget, the city pulled more than $1 million from its reserve fund. Overall, expenses for the 2010-11 fiscal year were listed at $4.12 million and revenues at $3.09 million. Police costs are $1.45 million while fire protection is $1.43 million.

The report said if the measure fails, the city could face “drastic cuts in services,” increased response times and the potential for bankruptcy and disincorporation.

“It’s going to be a hard sell,” Talbot said. “If they vote this down, we’re going to have to cut police and fire.”

Former councilman John Zaitz, who opposes the tax, agreed that the tax faces an uphill battle. He said the council has known for several years that the city is facing a budget crisis but did nothing until this year to deal with it.

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