Today I would like to talk about the half-cent sales tax measure that the City Council placed on the November 6 ballot. It is called Measure X – the City of Martinez Quality of Life/Essential Services Measure. In November, the citizens of Martinez will be asked to decide whether or not to pass Measure X.
Passage of this measure is critical if the City is to maintain our police services, park maintenance and other essential public services.
Our police, as well as other city workers who take care of our parks, water system, sewers, roads, and infrastructure, have traditionally been the lowest paid public workers in the county.
Until recently, many of our employees chose to work in Martinez, despite low salaries, because they love our city, their jobs, and serving the people who live here.
However, with the rising cost of living in the Bay Area, particularly for housing, many can no longer afford to stay. Many are leaving for other cities that provide higher salaries.
Due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area and City’s lack of competitive salaries, when we do lose employees it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract qualified individuals to replace them.
The City department that has been the most affected is our Police Department. During 2017, our loss of officers and inability to attract replacements became so severe that our Chief of Police was required to fill patrol shifts.
The Council worked with the City Manager and Police Chief to find a way to stop the loss of experienced police officers and improve our ability to attract replacements. During this time, many of our citizens came and spoke at City Council meetings and encouraged the Council to improve the compensation of our officers in order to retain and attract qualified personnel.
After carefully evaluating all options, the City Council approved an increase in our sworn officer salaries to make the department more competitive. However, even with the increase, Martinez remains below the average for cities in the County.
Yet, I am happy to say that since the Council’s action, we have already begun to attract some very high quality candidates to fill our vacant police officer positons. As a result, our Chief is working to staff both our Homeless Coordinator and School Resource Officer positions, which are extremely critical for our community.
In spite of this good news, many challenges remain for the City to continue to attract and retain not only qualified sworn officers, but City employees in general. The City has historically maintained healthy reserves, however our financial forecasts over the next several years show that we will not be able to continue to maintain current services without finding additional sources of revenue.
The reasons why the City finds itself in this position after so many years of prudent fiscal management are due to the City’s stagnant revenue growth, the rising costs of providing services, and some very large financial challenges that the City recently became aware of.
In regards to the City’s lack of revenue growth, that is for the most part due to the fact Martinez is a built out city, with very little land available to accommodate new development. This directly impacts our ability to generate the additional sales and property taxes that are needed to pay for the majority of services our citizens receive, such police services, well maintained parks and landscaping, maintenance of open space, and quality youth and senior services.
In response, the City Council has placed a high priority on economic development to foster business and job growth, and we are beginning to see the results, particularly in the downtown. That said, unless we become an instant mecca for an auto mall or several big box stores, which I do not believe the majority of our citizen’s want in Martinez, our financial forecasts show that in a couple of years the City will have used up all of our General Fund reserves.
In addition to weak revenue growth, Martinez is dealing with the impact of public employee pensions and rising rates with CalPERS, as are most cities in California that are part of the CalPERS system.
Cities all across the state are grappling with rising rates due to changes that CalPERS recently implemented with respect how they project their return on investments. While this change is a fiscally responsible one for CalPERS, the consequence is that cities are now facing costs that they cannot readily absorb.
On top of that, the City’s recent settlement with CalPERS over the dissolution of the Pleasant Hill – Martinez Joint Facilities Agency (JFA) brought forward additional unanticipated costs for the City. While the dissolution of the JFA proved to be a very challenging process, I am proud to say that this Council addressed a long-standing issue by collaborating with CalPERS and Social Security in a way that effectively minimized the fiscal impacts to the organization, as well as to our city employees.
Further, I would also like to emphasize that the City has been incredibly transparent with our approach to addressing these rather complicated issues, and more detailed information is available on the City’s website on the Council agenda page. If you need assistance finding the information, please contact the City Manager’s Office at City Hall.
It is for these reasons the City Council chose to place Measure X on the ballot and provide the opportunity for our citizens to weigh in and decide the level of services they would like to have.
I want to emphasize that if this measure passes, there will be a fiscal oversight committee formed, made up of Martinez citizens who will work together to provide strict fiscal oversight to ensure that all funds are utilized properly. Annual independent audits and public spending reports will allow you to see where every dollar has gone.
Further, Measure X sunsets in 15 years, to allow the community an opportunity in the future to revisit whether it is still necessary.
Your support for Measure X with help ensure community safety, maintain critical infrastructure integrity, and prepare Martinez for the future.
– Noralea Gipner