A new location for training police officers, equipment for a planned “rapid response” team for homeless and park maintenance issues and a plan to reduce payments to the city’s pension system were the first proposals city officials brought before the new members of the sales tax oversight committee.
The newly-appointed committee met for the first time in the Truxtun Room of the Rabobank Convention Center on Thursday.
In a meeting that lasted longer than two hours, City Manager Alan Tandy and other staff introduced proposals on how the city wants to spend the first dollars that will be earned from the 1 percent sales tax increase approved by voters in November via Measure N.
The tax increase will go into effect April 1, and in the last quarter of fiscal year 2018-19, which ends June 30, the city expects to earn $14.5 million.
How it spends that money will be partly subject to the whims of the oversight committee, which will vote on each proposal the city hopes to fund through revenue from the tax increase.
The City Council will then make the final determination on the proposal, giving the committee only advisory powers, although a failure of a proposal to secure enough votes to pass could send a powerful message to councilmembers.
Before the meeting got going, the city announced that one of the nine committee members, Pritesh Patel, had withdrawn from his position, citing his responsibilities elsewhere.
The City Council will vote to appoint Patel’s replacement at its next meeting.
But although it was down one member, the committee continued with the business of its first meeting, appointing Beatris Sanders as chairwoman and Barry Hibbard as vice-chair.
“One of the most important parts for this committee is to really put the time into listening to public comment,” Sanders said. “Though sometimes it’s grueling, that’s what we’re here for, to listen to the public about what their ideas are and the priorities for them.”
During the meeting, Tandy stressed that the city would try to spend the majority of the sales tax funds, estimated to be $58 million in the first full year, on public safety measures.
The city plans to hire 100 police officers in three years.
Finding a place to train those officers may be difficult. The city does not own a police training facility. It currently uses the sheriff’s facility when it needs to train officers.
But city officials say former restaurant Casa Tequila, which the city was forced to buy as part of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, could be used to train the officers.
It proposed that the city spend $900,000 renovating the 8,000-square-foot building to allow it to meet law enforcement standards.
The committee will officially vote on the proposal at its next meeting, but no members raised objections.
The city also proposed spending about $1.6 million to buy vehicles, computers and even a drone for a proposed rapid response team that will be used to mitigate homeless issues as well as keeping public parks clean.
Tandy said the city planned to hire more employees for the code enforcement and parks departments to staff the rapid response teams, which could be out on city streets as soon as July 1.
City officials could not say exactly how many employees would be hired, only that it would be announced shortly.
The vast majority of the first bits of sales tax funding the city sees will go into the city’s cash reserves, if the city gets its way.
The city proposed allocating $12 million to the cash reserves. The money would then be used to change the way the city pays for its pension system, CalPERS, which will ultimately save $8.7 million that will be used to shore up the reserves as well as other uses.
At the end of the fiscal year, the $12 million will have regenerated in the city’s cash reserves, according to the plan, as money from taxes comes in.
The announcement that the city planned to use sales tax funding in such a way sparked controversy.
Committee members did not openly object to the plan at Thursday’s meeting.
“There are very few opportunities in this business to reduce costs by $8.7 million,” Tandy said. “Salaries usually tend to rise, utility costs tend to rise. The opportunity to save $8.7 million is quite rare.”
The committee is scheduled to rule on the plan at its next meeting, at 11 a.m. March 11.