POSTED ON MAY 29, 2013:
Streets Is Watching
Possible solution to underfunding woes
This should be a no-brainer. With all the talk by those already elected and those who would like to be elected, one would think that a plan to dedicate existing funding to support public safety and our streets would be applauded.
To a person, everyone on the city council and everyone running for mayor have said that the support of public safety and the improvement of our street maintenance program are top priorities. But do they take this stance only if it's their idea, or do they really support this position -- even if it comes from someone who they either don't support or are running against?
Such is the case when Mayor Bartlett presented the proposal to extend the city's former Four to Fix 0.167 percent sales tax and dedicate it to fund public safety and street maintenance.
In essence, it's no new taxes to address an important and persistent funding problem. It's a redirection of a current tax for chronically underfunded core services which the public demands be addressed.
Early reaction from Bartlett's detractors has been what one might expect -- to be critical but offer no alternatives.
Everyone knows the issues: increase the manpower of public safety and take better care of our streets. Every council and every mayor for years has said they support this, but they have never figured out how to deliver on this commitment. Meanwhile, retirements deplete our public safety force and driving and weather conditions destroy our streets. Each year, it gets worse.
It is time to stop the lip service and kicking the can down the road and do something about it. Thankfully, this proposal will.
Some have argued that all of the public safety and street needs can be met within the current budget funded with the two cent sales tax. That position is either very naïve or very ignorant of the current budget allocation.
For every dollar in the general fund, at least $0.58 goes to public safety and $0.13 goes to public works. That's 71 cents of every dollar going to fund three of the city's 20 departments. The remaining departments have to divide up and operate on the remaining $0.30. There is no way anyone can find enough money in that to do what needs to be done. That's one reason why the police and fire departments have had to rely upon federal grants to make new hires. The problem with that is when the grant runs out, we have to pick up the tab.
Some have said we can find savings and efficiencies in the other departments to fund this.
Been there and done that. The highly acclaimed KPMG study is already uncovering millions of dollars in savings over the next few years. And that savings will be needed to offset the growing cost of government in areas of gasoline, utilities, health insurance, property insurance, and other costs of doing the government's business.
Under the mayor's plan, starting in 2015, the $0.167 would generate approximately $10 million and go up to $12 million each year through 2019. Mayor Bartlett's proposal would be to divide this fund into three parts: 60 percent to police, 31 percent to fire, and 9 percent to streets.
Over the past couple of years, there have been citizen surveys, public meetings, and lots of committee work. All of these efforts have produced the same public opinion and citizen's message to those in city hall: "Don't just say you support public safety and streets. Do something about it. Don't pander to us, don't pull the political double talk, don't nit-pick an idea to death just because it's not your idea, and for God's sake, don't say you have to keep studying it."
The citizens have clearly and loudly spoken. It's time for their employees to follow directions.
The Mayor's proposal should be on the ballot in November. There is no good reason why this should be delayed when there are no other ideas being floated or proposed by anyone else to solve this problem. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The proposed ballot is what has been referred to as a "menu" ballot. This means that the voters will not be told that they have to approve all of what is proposed or reject all of it. Rather, there will be 3 propositions on dividing up the $0.167 sales tax. Each proposition will let the citizen's vote for it or against it. Proposition 1 will be the 60 percent for police, proposition 2 will be the 30 percent for fire, and proposition 3 will be the 10 percent for street maintenance. So we can pick and choose what we want to support.
The other benefits of this plan would be the funds in the general fund currently going to public safety that possibly would be freed up for other important services, like the parks and recreation department. Or the zoo. If the dedicated tax can cover at least some of what the general fund is currently covering, that would free those dollars up for other underfunded core services.
The citizens deserve to vote up or down on this proposal this November. It's up to the council to give the citizens that opportunity. We should not be sitting here a year from now on a political soapbox talking about the virtues of public safety funding when we have a chance this year to be in the batter's box and hit a home run for our most basic needs.
This is a no-brainer for the city council. It's up to the citizens, not the council, to decide.
Let it ride.
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