But now that the city’s sales tax rate is certain to increase by a half-cent, the measure’s former opponents say it’s time for leaders who insisted on increasing city revenue to keep their promises.
“My priority, and my hope, is that the city will listen and know that what the public wants is that our public safety is the first priority,” said Jim Freeman, a member of the Tracy Tea Party Patriots who wrote the official ballot argument against Measure E.
He said the campaign he and others waged against the ballot measure should give city leaders pause when they decide how to spend the estimated $4.6 million the tax hike is conservatively expected to generate each year.
“I think the fact that we had a lot of discussion going on around the city and we ran this campaign to oppose Measure E is going to mean that our city leaders are going to take the task very seriously of properly handling the city revenues and not get us into a worse financial situation,” Freeman said.
City Manager Leon Churchill said city staffers were “relieved and grateful” that the measure passed.
“We feel very fortunate and affirmed and appreciative of the public’s confidence in its local government,” he said Thursday, Nov. 4. “I think it adds more pressure for the city to do even better.”
Churchill said the tax likely won’t go into effect until April, but it will make it much easier to balance the 2011-12 fiscal year budget.
He said the lion’s share of the tax money will go to support the police and fire departments.
But Churchill said the extra sales tax revenue will also ensure the city can provide services that include recreation, senior services, code enforcement, cultural activities, after-school and youth support activities, and a host of other things that don’t cost much individually but make a big difference in quality of life.
“Those other services really begin to define (quality of life) in Tracy,” he said.
City staff and council members won’t be the only ones to monitor how Measure E money is spent, however. The ballot measure’s language calls for the creation of a citizen oversight committee, made of Tracy residents appointed by the City Council. Churchill said the committee “obviously has to be ready to go before April,” and the city will get to work “immediately” to draft application forms and procedures.
Freeman expects that at least one member of the Measure E-opposing Tracy Tea Party Patriots will seek a spot on the oversight panel.
Churchill also said a fee on advanced life-support services administered by Tracy firefighters would be dropped now that Measure E has passed. Councilman Mike Maciel, at the Wednesday, Nov. 3, council meeting, asked that the fee be placed on the next meeting’s agenda for discussion and possible action.
Councilman Steve Abercrombie also said this week that it’s his expectation the EMS fee would not be imposed on local residents.
But that wasn’t the focus on Election Night, when Measure E supporters celebrated at a party hosted by Russell Kagehiro at his downtown office building, a soiree attended by Churchill, Supervisor Leroy Ornellas and several major local land developers.
Kagehiro instead chose to focus on the benefits of passing the tax increase. He said the city has done all it can to cut costs and focus on the type of economic development that will make the city stronger.
“In this economy, why (else) did Gateway break ground?” he said, referring to the long-awaited ceremony at the Gateway Business Park last week. “Let’s give credit where credit is due.”
Echoing other supporters of the measure, Kagehiro said it’d be a shame to strip the city of its services now that its focus is in the right place.
“It’s not housing,” he said. “That was yesterday. Now it’s economic development.”
Boosters of the local economy weren’t the only ones cheered by Tuesday’s results.
Tony Perez, the president of the union representing Tracy firefighters, said that the passage of Measure E was good for the department.
“We’re certainly happy the community chose to maintain our level of service. It’s what it was really all about for us,” Perez said.
The Tracy Firefighters Association PAC, which is funded by a portion of local firefighters’ union dues, supported the Yes on E campaign with $20,000, which was matched by $20,000 from the Tracy Mid-Managers Bargaining Unit.
Perez said that firefighters’ support was directly linked to a desire to preserve jobs and the department’s ability to respond to emergencies.
“We were fearful that, should this not pass, we might lose jobs, which would affect our safety and ultimately affect our ability to respond to a citizen’s emergency,” he said.
During the campaign cycle, acting Chief Germane Friends pointed out that the fire department had seen its assets dwindle over the past few years because of budget pressure.
City officials also told voters before Election Day that without Measure E, the city would likely have to lay off members of the police and fire departments.
The other measure
Measure D was also approved by voters on Tuesday, turning the city clerk into an appointed, rather than an elected, position starting in 2012.
It passed by a slimmer margin than Measure E, gathering a 52.88 percent yes vote.