Sacramento sales tax hike to boost cops, firefighters, parks

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

For the first time since 2008, the city of Sacramento is planning to open its Police Academy and place dozens of new officers on the streets.

It's also making plans to tend to park repairs that have been ignored for years, open six pools that were saved last year through the charity of a local grocery store and keep 27 firefighters whose jobs were in jeopardy with the expiration of a federal grant.

The sudden good news is the result of revenue to be generated by an increase in the sales tax approved by voters in November. That increase goes into effect April 1, and the city is projecting an infusion of $5 million two months later.

The City Council is expected to approve the funding recommendations made by City Manager John Shirey at its meeting Tuesday.

"It gives us the opportunity to do some creative and good things," said Councilman Steve Hansen. "The overall tone of the spending is right. It's going to restore services, and we're making sure it's not being used for new things or in a way that we become reliant upon it."

Measure U passed with 64 percent approval in November. As a result, the city's sales tax is going up half a percentage point, an increase that city officials project will generate $27 million a year.

The council will vote this spring how to use that $27 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

City officials insist that revenue will not be used to address what Shirey called a "structural deficit" of $9.7 million the city is facing in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

To help fill that gap, Shirey is aiming to persuade the city's police officers to contribute the entire employee share of their pensions. The city currently picks up both an employee and employer pension tab for those officers.

"I'm going into (the negotiating process) with a positive attitude that our police union will see that for our community, it's only fair," Shirey said.

Dustin Smith, the head of the police union, said pension contributions by his members are "going to be a very heavy issue at the (negotiating) table and we know that."

Smith lauded the police additions funded by Measure U that were recommended by Shirey. "There will still be a long way to go, but it's a great start," he said.

Shirey said the police funding would support recruitment and training for between 40 and 50 new officers entering the Police Academy in July. Those officers would be on the streets as early as December.

Future Measure U funds are scheduled to support two more academy classes, meaning between 120 and 150 new cops could be on the force by the end of next year.

The Police Department has lost more than 150 officers during the economic downturn.

In the Fire Department, Shirey has recommended using the money to avoid the rotating closure of a fourth fire unit and to pay for 27 positions in the department supported by a federal grant that expires in May.

Shirey wants to use $250,000 to open six swimming pools and five wading pools through the end of June. Those pools were kept open last summer through a fundraising drive by Save Mart. Measure U funding is also expected to be used in the 2013-14 fiscal year to keep pools open.

Another $850,000 will be put into projects at city parks, including new sidewalks and drinking fountains, picnic table repairs and bike trail resurfacing.

Funding for an animal control officer and for city libraries is also included in Shirey's recommendation.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ryan Lillis



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