Council approves sales tax measure
to benefit police, fire, and roads

June 20, 2014
Santa Paula News

A majority of the City Council approved placing a sales tax measure before voters in November that would raise $1.6 million a year for the police and fire departments and street maintenance, but Mayor Rick Cook opted out noting he wanted a 50-50 public safety share

The council took the action at the June 16 meeting where there were no public comments on the tax but much council discussion on the issue, which the voters will decide November 4.

The proposal would raise Santa Paula’s sales tax to 8.5 percent from 7.5, making it the highest in Ventura County.

Based on present sales tax revenues of approximately $1.6 million a year, if approved by voters police will receive half the additional sales taxes collected, or about $800,000 more a year.

The fire department and street maintenance program would split the rest, with each getting 25 percent, about $400,000, or so more annually.

As a specific tax, the measure will require approval of at least 2/3 of Santa Paula voters; it would sunset in 12 years. Any funds not utilized by any one entity during any given year could be shifted to another specified shareholder named in the initiative.

The measure also calls out for careful accounting and oversight as well as a provision that would not allow General Fund expenditures for police and fire - now at 41 percent and 19 percent respectively - to be lowered.

The latter was an issue that Cook drew attention to early on in the discussion, noting, “In other words their (police and fire) budget won’t be reduced,” and sales tax revenue would not supplant allocations.

That issue worried Councilman Ralph Fernandez: “We don’t have a city engineer, we don’t have a building and safety director, we’re not staffed to where we went to be,” and he worried about “locking ourselves into a number,” that could hamper staffing in other departments.

“We’re just talking about the General Fund,” said City Manager Jaime Fontes who noted there are other sources - separate enterprise funds as well as fee revenues - that take care of or at least supplement such positions.

“That worries me a lot,” Fernandez noted after still more discussion.

When it came to the vote, Cook said, “I think Santa Paula needs it but I can’t support it for the same reason as before... we’re not giving fire 50 percent.”

According to the report by City Attorney John Cotti, sales tax revenue could be used for hiring officers, upgrading technology, improving police response times, buying safety equipment and maintaining a youth program to help prevent gangs and violence.

The additional money would be used for similar purposes at the fire department.

The added revenue for street repair and maintenance would include “rehabilitation and/or reconstruction,” according to Cotti’s report.

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