During my 26 years as the city manager of Bakersfield, the community has weathered several economic cycles. During the downturns, we rightsized the budget and continued to provide the quality levels of service expected by residents. Staff had previously never approached the City Council regarding any type of general tax increase.
It is frankly not the discussion we ever wanted to have, but it is critical for the community to understand what factors have led to the discussion of a one-cent increase in the local sales tax.
As a City, we have always operated with fewer staff and smaller budgets than our peer cities. A 2013 study found the City of Bakersfield had the lowest staffing to population ratio in the nation among 107 cities with a population of 200,000 or more. The City spends 30 percent less on general fund operations such as police and fire than the top 20 most populated cities in California — even after excluding Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Over the past several years, all departments with the exception of police and fire have experienced cuts. We’ve reduced positions and increased workloads beyond sustainable levels. Candidly, we feel as though we do more with less, providing an excellent value to the local taxpayer.
What we have heard recently, directly from the community, is that there is a perception that crime is increasing in Bakersfield. Unfortunately, statistics show this is more of a reality than perception. On any given police shift, there are just 50 sworn staff available to respond to calls citywide.
Call responses to crimes such as cold burglaries and vehicle thefts may take hours or days to respond. As such, the City’s property crime rate is 55 percent greater than the same top 20 cities. The vehicle theft rate, as of 2016, was third highest in the nation. I urge you to go to www.crimemapping.com/map/agency/19 to see the types of crimes in your neighborhood the City is looking to reduce as part of this plan.
Similarly, Bakersfield Fire Department calls are at an all-time high, but with staffing below 2008 levels.
Additionally, there continues to be an increase in the number of unsheltered homeless individuals within Bakersfield. From 2017 to 2018, the community point-in-time count reflected an increase of 46 percent. Resources are needed requiring additional investment in order to ensure individuals receive proper outreach, shelter, and affordable housing in an effort to reduce the number of homeless individuals within the community.
Investment in this area will ensure our local business districts, parks and public areas are safe and secure for everyone.
The death of redevelopment agencies in California also took the primary members of the City staff that promoted tax base growth through new businesses, economic diversification, and job creating projects such as the Padre Hotel, Maya Cinemas, and Mill Creek with the Federal Courthouse. Job growth and economic diversification are vital to the long-term stability of the community.
A one-cent sales tax would be a reliable, locally controlled funding stream within the City to maintain and enhance public safety services, address the fiscal stability of the City and to address quality of life issues such as homelessness. This proposal would generate $50 million a year, with all of the funds remaining local and none going to Sacramento.
There would be several layers of oversight and accountability to ensure the funds are being spent on the identified priorities. This includes the formation of a citizen’s oversight committee.
In California, only voters within communities can determine whether or not to approve these types of revenue measures for investment into local government services. Based on my office’s outreach to date, there is significant evidence to suggest the voters of the Bakersfield should be given the opportunity to decide what the future holds for the City.
Alan Tandy, who became Bakersfield city manager in 1992, is the longest-tenured person in that job in city history. He was previously city manager in Napoleon, Ohio; Joliet, Wyoming; and Billings, Montana.