Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson calls for sales tax extension

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers his final State of the City at the Crest Theatre on Thursday, January 27, 2016
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers his final State of the City at the Crest Theatre on Thursday, January 27, 2016 jvillegas@sacbee.com

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is calling for an extension of a half-cent sales tax among his final-year budget priorities, according to a memo the city released Thursday.

Measure U, expected to produce about $42 million in 2016, is set to expire in 2019. City officials have warned that a number of important city programs will lose funding if and when Measure U expires.

Support topped 64 percent when the sales tax hike passed in 2012. A city-funded poll conducted this year found that 72 percent of respondents would support an extension.

Ben Sosenko, Johnson’s press secretary, said in an email that ending Measure U would result in “less police on the streets, slower response times for our fire department, and less services for our parks.”

Elsewhere in the memo, Johnson proposed that Sacramento begin hiring 15 new police officers a year for the next two decades, at an estimated cost of $1.8 million in the next fiscal year alone. In the first half of 2015, Sacramento had the highest violent-crime increase out of the nation’s 25 largest cities, based on an annual FBI report.

The mayor also addressed the diversity of the department by proposing $1 million for an ongoing initiative to hire entry-level officers out of local programs like the Criminal Justice Magnet Academy.

Johnson proposed hiring a full-time staff member to advance an “innovation district” at the downtown railyard, $1 million in continued funding for the mayor’s gang prevention task force and establishing a medical innovation zone in Oak Park.

Johnson also wants funding to pay for solutions identified by a city task force to address homelessness.

Besides hiring 15 new officers, Johnson proposed adding two new code enforcement officers and a new position in the City Auditor’s Office. He also suggested the city manager look into creating a youth and education department without increasing costs.

Two new park ranger positions are included as well, an item Councilman Steve Hansen said is particularly important to him. He said he wants the public to be involved in the budget process as it unfolds by attending council meetings and budget hearings.

“As far as where we are right now, we’re at the beginning of a conversation,” Hansen said. “We’ll look at what we need and what we want and come up with something we can do.”

While putting together the memo, the mayor met with each council member. The city’s independent budget analyst also held community meetings, and the city commissioned Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates to conduct a survey of 500 people Jan. 5-9. The survey identified the public’s priorities as public safety, economic development and infrastructure.

In the memo, Johnson directed the city manager to analyze and prioritize the city’s infrastructure needs and specified improvements like rebuilding Fire Station 10 in south Sacramento, modernizing the city’s 311 call center and park maintenance.

Johnson warned in the memo that general fund expenditures are predicted to exceed revenues as soon as the 2017-18 fiscal year. He said the city must focus on building reserves, negotiate with labor groups to fully fund retirement benefits in advance and consolidate funding requests into the midyear budget review.

He also said the city should look for ways to refinance its debts as rates reach record-low territory. And he suggested the city seek additional revenue streams, both with a Measure U extension and ongoing development in the central city that attracts businesses.

The city has been working toward keeping a reserve of 10 percent of the general fund. Johnson proposed moving about $954,000 into the reserve to hit that 10 percent mark.

The city’s Budget and Audit Committee will review Johnson’s budget priorities Tuesday afternoon, while the City Council will discuss it that night.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison