In a shocking turn of events, the city of Bakersfield’s sales tax measure has gained enough votes to pass.
In a 97-vote decision, yes votes edged out no votes by one-tenth of one percent. The tax measure currently stands at 50.05 percent yes votes to 49.95 percent no votes, or 45,835 to 45,738, according to an update released Monday by the Kern County Elections Office.
There are no ballots left to be counted, Assistant Registrar of Voters Karen Rhea said in an email.
Measure N, which will raise the sales tax in the city from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent, initially appeared to fail on election night after the first returns showed a seemingly insurmountable deficit of 1,500 votes that grew to 2,600 a few days later.
But as the Elections Office counted mail-in and provisional ballots in the weeks after the election, the deficit began to erode.
As of last week the measure was within 14 votes of passing, gaining momentum that seemed to make it destined to pass.
Measure N has passed by 97 votes as the results stand now.
"Those of us who deal with complaints every day - and felt we were out of viable options about how to deal with that in the big picture - to have the chance now to address those issues in a comprehensive way is a very good feeling," said City Manager Alan Tandy.
The tax increase would raise an estimated $50 million per year for the city.
City officials have said they would hire 100 police officers if the measure passed, which would allow the Bakersfield Police Department to respond to a greater amount of complaints in person.
The city has received complaints about the kinds of calls it responds to. On low-level calls such as residential break-ins that had already occurred, crime victims have been asked to fill out an online form rather than speaking to a police officer.
With the additions to the police force, BPD should be able to expand the services it offers to residents.
Tandy said it will take three years to recruit, train and put on active duty all 100 officers the city plans on hiring.
In the meantime, he said the city will initiate other services.
"We have a list of things that are going to happen quite promptly so that people will see enhancement to public safety right away," he said.
The city has said it will hire staff for economic development purposes, increase homelessness abatement efforts and restore cuts from several years ago that occurred at the Bakersfield Fire Department.
"Now we’re given an opportunity," said City Councilmember Andrae Gonzales, who campaigned in favor of the sales tax. "We’re given the opportunity to show the entire community what we can do when we have additional resources."
He predicted that many improvements to the city's quality-of-life elements would be enacted as a result of the tax increase, including upgrades to the city's downtown.
"For years and years and years, the city of Bakersfield has been doing more with less," he said. "And at some point you begin doing less with less. So now we’re able to really take it to the next level."
The Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, which supported the tax increase, also celebrated the passing of Measure N.
"The Measure N campaign was an unprecedented coalition of business, public safety, labor and community groups that came together to build a safer, stronger Bakersfield," Chamber President and CEO Nick Ortiz said in an email. "With the Measure’s apparent passage (with today’s updated totals), the Chamber’s charge now is to work with the City to ensure the funds are spent in a manner consistent with the community’s priorities."
But the passage of Measure N initiates a “nightmare scenario” for the Kern County government.
The county also put a 1 percent sales tax increase on the ballot, which was soundly voted down by voters.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood initially proposed the tax increase to the Board of Supervisors.
He said he worried that if the city passed a sales tax increase without a similar increase in the county, the city would go on a police officer hiring spree that would result in droves of deputies leaving the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
The department already faces a shortage of active-duty deputies, which could be exasperated now that Measure N has appeared to pass.
Last week, Youngblood said that he had no plans for mitigating the situation, but he would work with the County Administrative Office to try to prevent the bleeding of deputies from the county.
Attempting to allay the county's worries, Tandy said in an email that historically 90 percent to 95 percent of BPD hires had been either entry-level employees or laterals from across the state, not just the county.
The sales tax will take effect beginning April 1, Tandy said, with the first influx of cash arriving near the end the current fiscal year.
The city will now go about making a flush budget for the next fiscal year with the increase in funding. The county will, once again, prepare for what could be another lean year.