Sacramento is relying on its expiring sales tax to fund nearly 20 percent of police employees in its latest budget plan, and city leaders said those jobs could be lost in future years if voters don't extend the tax in November.
Measure U — approved overwhelmingly by the voters in 2012 — will pay for 195 positions in the police department, 90 in the fire department and many more jobs at community centers, parks and swimming pools in the fiscal year starting July 1, according to the city's proposed 2018-19 budget released Monday. Overall, the city is projecting using $47.3 million in Measure U funding in the upcoming budget year.
The one-half percentage point sales tax is scheduled to expire at the end of March 2019. Renewing it is expected to be the political focus of the year at City Hall.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg and members of the City Council have expressed support for extending the sales tax through a ballot measure. There is also talk of increasing the tax — perhaps to one cent on the dollar — and making it permanent. City leaders are expected to announce their plans for the tax in early May.
If the City Council wants to place a measure on the November ballot to extend and increase the tax, it must do so by mid-July.
Assistant City Manager Leyne Milstein said Monday that jobs currently funded by Measure U dollars would either be absorbed by the city's general fund budget or eliminated. With increasing pension and labor costs forecast in future years, the city is projecting deficits beginning next fiscal year, meaning it would be unlikely the general fund would have the capacity to support the Measure U jobs.
"The thought process has been that if we funded (jobs) with Measure U, if Measure U went away then the positions would go away," Milstein said.
Steinberg and council members have talked often about placing more focus on investing in low-income neighborhoods since police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark on March 18. Roughly 78 percent of the Measure U budget for the upcoming fiscal year is proposed to be spent on the police and fire departments. Increasing the sales tax is seen as a potential avenue toward shifting more resources to the neighborhoods and economic development.
The city's overall general fund budget is projected to have a $4.75 million surplus in the 2018-19 fiscal year, as sales and property tax figures continue to grow amidst a strengthening economy. However, city budget officials are projecting deficits to begin in the 2020 fiscal year, eventually reaching $30 million gaps by the 2023 budget year.
If Measure U is not extended, those deficits would more than double and could hit $85 million by the 2023-24 fiscal year, according to the city's budget document.
"Escalating employee salary and benefit costs and the increasing costs of operations and maintenance of aging infrastructure continue to be a challenge," the budget reads.
The City Council is scheduled to adopt a final budget in June.