Sacramento voters will consider Measure U on Nov. 6, which will keep in place an existing half-cent tax that is set to expire April 1 and add an additional half-cent for an overall sales tax of 8.75 percent. The current rate is 8.25 percent. The proposal would inject $400 million into the city’s coffers over the next four years.
City leaders are asking taxpayers to support core services like police, parks and fire departments, but also affordable housing and economic development.
There’s no mandate attached to the funds, so there’s no guarantee the money will go where officials say it will go. To get a better understanding of how city leaders have used the money in the past, The Sacramento Bee obtained and reviewed data on projects that were funded with existing sales tax dollars since 2013.
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The data, while illuminating, has some limitations. It is not broken down by geography, so it’s still unclear which communities saw the greatest benefit from Measure U funding.
The glaring conclusion, however, is that the city’s fire and police departments collected an outsize share of the funds — about 76 percent — and parks took the rest.
The lopsided allocation of dollars helps underscore a fear some have expressed about re-upping the Measure U tax that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Pension costs for first responders are expected to sharply rise in the coming years, increasing the likelihood that additional Measure U revenue will be gobbled up as a result.
Voters approved the half-cent tax in 2012 to restore city services cut in the wake of the Great Recession. The tax will expire in 2019 and city leaders have already warned that if residents don’t renew it there will be extreme cuts again.
One thing all parties seem to agree on is that no one wants to see that happen.
Although the fire department received the second-largest share of the funds, it’s unique for how much of it was directed toward overtime. The department’s $8 million in overtime spending was double that of the police department and 10 times more than parks and recreation.
That should come as no surprise since the department has been singled out before by City Auditor Jorge Oseguera for prolific overtime spending. In a report released last year, Oseguera noted that overtime in the department’s overall budget had risen by $5.6 million between fiscal years 2010-11 and 2014-15.
Measure U also helped keep 48 positions, two medic units and it jumpstarted construction of two fire stations, according to the city.
The police department funded some 184 sworn officer positions with Measure U dollars, and salaries accounted for the largest portion of police spending. City leaders say the money will help the department focus on community-oriented policing.
Although the parks department received the smallest share its funding was stretched across more projects than any other. The city invested heavily in parks improvements, maintenance and pools, as well as youth programs.
About the data
The Sacramento Bee obtained and reviewed data from the city of Sacramento that details how funds collected from the Measure U sales tax were allocated. The figures included project names and department descriptions, among other fields.
The review focused on the expense figures that reflects how much money the city actually spent. However, The Bee had to categorize each expenditure into one of three departments — police, fire and parks — to get a clear sense of where the money went. This was done using the description of the project, which often suggested where the funds were allocated.
When uncertain, The Bee asked the city to review the budget item. About $388,000 that was assigned to animal services was excluded from the data visualization.