Los Banos to decide on half-cent sales tax Tuesday

A low turnout is expected in Merced County on an Election Day that features only one item on the Los Banos ballot.

“Turnout for the last election of this nature was 12 percent,” said Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey. “I would love to see something higher than that, but we know it is traditionally low.”

Merced County has 94,516 registered voters, 12,574 of whom live in Los Banos.

City officials are asking for a continued redirection of a portion of a half-cent sales tax for the salaries of eight first responders, known as Measure K.

As of Thursday, 1,542 of the 5,457 permanent vote-by-mail ballots issued in Los Banos had been returned to the Elections Office.

Levey said her office has already started the process of verifying signatures and voting statuses on absentee ballots that have been received. She urged those with absentee ballots to turn them in immediately.

“The return ballot must be received no later than Nov. 5 (Tuesday) at 8 p.m. for the ballot to be counted,” she said.

The elections department typically has 400 poll workers staffing more than 130 precincts in the county on Election Day.

There are 14 precincts in Los Banos. Polling places are listed on sample ballots, which were mailed out last month.

Measure K will allow eight emergency services workers (two firefighters and six police officers) to continue to be paid from facilities funding in a half-cent sales tax. The tax, known as Measure P, was approved in 2004 for public safety equipment, facilities and personnel.

As the economy suffered a downturn in 2009, voters approved Measure A. It allows police officers and firefighters to receive salary and benefits through Measure P money previously being saved to build a new police station and firefighter training tower.

Measure A, which pays for the salaries of six police officers and two firefighters, sunsets in 2014. Measure K extends Measure A through 2020.

If Measure K fails to receive two-thirds voter approval on Tuesday, the police and firefighter salaries will have to be paid from the city’s general fund, and Los Banos officials are not confident the city is going to bring in enough tax revenue to fund those salaries.

Opponents of Measure K dispute city officials’ claims that the general fund will be strained by those eight salaries. They also believe residents should not have the public safety construction projects they voted for be further delayed.

Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Election results should be known by 10:30 election night. Results will be posted on the Merced County Elections Department’s website at Click on the "County Services" tab, then scroll down and click on "Elections."