For the first time since the start of the recession, city officials in Sacramento awoke Wednesday morning to the possibility of a hiring frenzy.
A measure seeking to raise the city sales tax by one-half of a percentage point passed overwhelmingly in Tuesday's election a result that city officials said would allow them to chip away at five straight years of historic cuts to their budget. Some of the most drastic cutbacks made by the City Council since 2008 could be reversed as early as next summer, when the budget for next fiscal year is finalized.
Council members and high-ranking city officials said they would push to hire more than 100 police officers, end rotating closures of Fire Department rigs, bring back sidelined youth programs and restore park maintenance. Those restorations would be funded through the estimated $28 million in annual revenue generated by the tax hike.
"Hopefully you'll see a thoughtful council turn the city's investment into providing a higher level of service and restoring in a very smart way some of the cuts that have been made," said Councilman Jay Schenirer.
City officials were also clear about what the money would not be spent on: salaries and benefits for current city employees.
"For labor to think we're going to fund benefit increases, that would be a mistake," said Councilman Steve Cohn. "It's not like we're going to have gold-plated service. But we can go back to having full staffing where we don't have brownouts for fire stations, where we have adequate police patrols."
Support for the increase was nearly universal throughout Sacramento. In some areas places such as downtown and Meadowview the tax increase was favored by a nearly 4-to-1 margin.
A precinct in South Land Park and pockets of east Sacramento were the only parts of the city where the measure trailed.
Among the opponents of the tax measure was Mayor Kevin Johnson.
"The voters have spoken, and I respect their decision," the mayor said. "Moving forward, I hope the city will be good stewards of the public's money and continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of Sacramento."
The tax will go into effect in April, in time for City Manager John Shirey to account for the money in his 2013-2014 budget.
Shirey said Wednesday he was "not ready to make specific recommendations" on how the cash would be spent. However, he gave some hints, with a focus on public safety.
"I'm certainly going to recommend to the City Council that we supplement the current police force and that we hire more officers," he said.
The Police Department has seen its ranks steadily decline in recent years and is now among the lowest-staffed departments among major U.S. cities. Specialty units investigating gangs and drugs have been decimated, and those squads would likely be the benefactors of new tax revenue.
Shirey said restoring city pools "is on my list" and that he "doesn't particularly like (Fire Department) brownouts."
"I think the vote by the people said the pendulum had swung too far (with years of cuts) and that we need to bring back some balance," he said. "I think they got the word that the city really is in a serious financial situation and this money was needed to restore services."
Leaders of the city's faith community heralded the measure's approval. Members of Sacramento Area Congregations Together were among the measure's most vocal supporters.
Pastor Les Simmons of South Sacramento Christian Center said he was hopeful the money would help expand the Ceasefire violence prevention program that involves crime analysis by the Police Department, as well as job training and education services for at-risk youth. He said the restorations to public safety would have a particularly strong impact in the city's challenged neighborhoods.
"It's significant for the police to be able to respond to urgent situations that over the past year they haven't been able to respond to," he said.