If City Council members are looking for a concrete example of where some of the proceeds from a November tax measure could go, here's a good one: A promising anti-gang program in south Sacramento is about to run out of cash just as it makes headway, and there's no money to expand it to Del Paso Heights or Oak Park.
Police, prosecutors, clergy, school officials and others are working together in the Sacramento Safe Community Partnership to reduce gun violence. Known as the "cease-fire" strategy and patterned after a successful effort in Boston, it focuses on teens and young adults, including gang leaders.
In July 2010, ministers began walking the Mack Road area, where two rival gangs were at war. There have been a dozen "call-ins" where youths were given an ultimatum: Take advantage of educational, job training and other services or risk arrest and long prison terms.
The number of shootings has dropped by 58 percent in the Mack Road corridor, compared to a 17 percent reduction citywide, according to the partnership.
But the program's federal and state grants totaling more than $1 million are all set to run out by year's end. While the partnership is seeking more funding, there are no guarantees.
That's where the potential tax measure could come in. A quarter-cent sales tax increase would raise nearly $16 million a year, a half-cent hike more than $31 million annually. The City Council has to decide by July 24 whether to place a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved, the money could start flowing in July 2013.
It just so happens that Thursday evening, council members were scheduled to receive a staff report on the potential sales tax hike, followed immediately by an update on the "cease-fire" program.
It's never easy for politicians to put forward a tax increase. But a recent poll commissioned by the city found ample public support for a sales tax increase to fund general purposes, public safety or programs for at-risk youths.
And Tuesday's election results across California indicate that if local officials can demonstrate a need and have earned public trust, many voters will raise their own taxes. According to a preliminary tally by the League of California Cities, 55 of 87 local tax measures passed, including eight of nine city measures for general-purpose sales tax increases.
The staff report points out that if Sacramento increases its 7.75 percent sales tax by a quarter cent, it would still be lower than most of California's largest cities. An 8 percent rate in Sacramento, however, would put it at the upper end of cities in the region. That could be harmful to the city's already mediocre business climate.
Yet, even with savings from more efficient city operations and from possible employee union concessions, it's becoming clearer that to start restoring some of the services that have been slashed during the recession, it may require a relatively small, temporary tax increase.
At the least, council members ought to seriously weigh the pros and cons and consider letting voters make that choice.