MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to increase its 8.75 percent sales tax by a half-cent, Martinez City Council decided unanimously Monday night.
Cost to get the measure on the ballot is expected to be $65,000, which will come from the city’s reserves, the Council decided.
While this would be a general tax, which would need only a simple majority approval, the Council also voted Monday to approve a community identified spending priorities plan, based on a survey and interviews conducted June 5-11 by FM3 Research.
In that survey, residents said their top priorities were related to public safety.
These included ensuring police officers can respond quickly to emergency calls; recruiting and retaining experienced police officers, maintaining the city’s neighboring policing program and to have at least one on-duty officer assigned to each of the city’s neighborhood areas; assuring an adequate number of officers for property and violent crime investigation and prevention as well as crime related to drugs and alcohol use; continuing the city’s partnership with Contra Costa County, neighboring cities and nonprofit service providers to address mental health, substance abuse and job training for the homeless while making sure local businesses and public areas are safe; and providing safety for children on their way to school, including having crossing guards and school resource officers.
In May, the Council authorized spending $720,000 from its reserves to give sworn officers an 8 percent mid-contract raise that began July 1 in order to remain competitive in salaries and benefits with neighboring cities, which are competing to attract, hire and keep law enforcement officers.
At the time, the city’s contract with its officers funded 34 positions, but only 29 were filled and another officer was about to leave. That had been forcing officers off special assignments and others to work overtime to handle patrols. At times the department administrators, including Chief Manjit Sappal, were in patrol cars.
Even though the raise received Council support, vice Mayor Lara DeLaney said the city couldn’t continue paying for ongoing expenses with its rainy-day reserves, foreshadowing the city’s consideration of a move to asking residents to increase the sales tax by a half-cent.
“By maintaining Martinez’s Neighborhood Policing Program, at least one on-duty officer will continue to be provided to each neighborhood area – ensuring police officers can respond quickly to 9-1-1 emergency calls,” Sappal said in an announcement issued by the city shortly after Monday’s meeting.
Swift response times to calls is “the core function” of a police department, he said at the meeting.
Councilmember Debbie McKillop said the city needs a strong police department. “I can attest that if there is an opening for the criminal element….the criminal element creeps in,” she said. “Public safety is number one. People’s lives are at stake.
During the survey, citizens also said they want deteriorated storm drains to be repaired and upgraded, not only to reduce the chances of flooding but also to prevent polluting the waterways.
In the post-meeting announcement, City Manager Brad Kilger said, “Every year during major winter storms, the city experiences major flooding downtown and in older parts of the city.
“Maintaining our storm drains prevents flooding and keeps pollution from flowing into Alhambra Credek and the Bay.”
They wanted to make sure parks would be safe places to play and enjoy the outdoors, and they said regular programs at the city’s senior center, its special activities and its Respite and Senior Nutrition programs were important, too.
So are youth and community recreational programs, especially pool services, youth camps and recreational classes, according to the survey results.
All of those were included in the Community Identified Spending Priorities Plan, which would guide the city not only in ways to spend the $3.2 million the proposed tax is expected to raise each year, but also in planning future budgets.
Each of those points in the priorities plan are “the key things citizens are looking for,” Kilger said. “Everything written here is a reflection of what the citizens put forth.”
Councilmember Mark Ross worried that the ballot measure’s working included the estimated annual revenues, which likely would rise and wane depending on spending in the city. But Senior Assistant City Attorney Veronica Nebb urged the Council to leave the wording of the ballot measure as it is composed, since state mandates on verbiage is subject to change.
Resident Felix Sanchez told the Council he approved of assuring a full complement of police officers in the department. “We need officers more than we realize,” he said, urging the Council to share the results of the survey to encourage voters to support the ballot measure.
Speaking as public information officer of the Police Officers Association, Mike Estanol said, “The ballot measure means everything to us.” He said the public support as shown through the survey also was important to Martinez officers.
“Two years ago, we went for a half-cent tax,” Mayor Rob Schroder said. That tax’s revenues are dedicated to repairing and maintaining the city’s local roads. “I hope we’re successful in this case.”
The ballot measure is being called the Quality of Life and Essential Services Measure.
If approved, the half-cent sales tax would last 15 years and its revenues would be overseen by a citizens oversight committee that would be informed about revenue received from the tax and how it is spent. The panel would submit annual reports to the city.
Information about the ballot measure is on the city’s website, www.cityofmartinez.org.