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The statue in front of Bakersfield City Hall's east entrance is of Col. Thomas Baker, for whom the city is named.

It was a sharp twist of fate.

Ask Bakersfield voters to pass a sales tax increase to address city budget woes. The millions in new tax revenue could fund more cops, more infrastructure and meet some of the city's general obligations.

A poll conducted by the city even seemed to indicate residents would support a 1 percent increase in the sales tax.

Instead, voters turned the measure down so officials now must reverse course and cut. And perhaps, cut deep.

“We’re on the less desirable path now,” said City Manager Alan Tandy, who first raised the issue with the City Council.

On Tuesday, Measure N, a proposal to increase the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent, lost by 2,603 votes out of more than 57,000 cast, according to the latest unofficial ballot count.

Although more than 68,000 votes remained to be counted throughout the county as of Friday afternoon, the city’s sales tax measure appeared doomed.

“It was disappointing to come so close and not make it,” Tandy said. “It was an extremely important issue, and now we’re facing a future that is likely to include cutbacks rather than hiring police officers and economic development staff, and a major effort on homeless issues.”

The city sold the sales tax increase to voters partly as a public safety and economic development measure, saying an increase in police officers could lower response times while more economic development staff could expand opportunities for the city.

But the sales tax would have also helped cure some troubling underlying revenue issues facing the city.

The city had been forced to cut $15 million out of the general fund over the last four years due to rising costs that haven’t been matched with corresponding increases in revenue, Tandy said.

He expects the trend to continue.

Also the city’s pension costs are estimated to increase by $28.9 million over the next eight years.

"We will absolutely do what we can with what we have," Tandy said.

A sales tax increase was never going to be an easy task in the financially conservative Bakersfield.

Assistant City Clerk Julie Drimakis said in an email that she could not find a single instance of city voters passing a tax referendum, although records from before 1980 are spotty.

Some City Council members seemed reluctant to campaign on behalf of the tax, preferring to leave the issue for voters to decide.

“You have to ask for the vote, and the city never really asked for the vote,” said Michael Turnipseed, executive director of KernTax, which endorsed the sales tax measure. “They just said, ‘We have a problem, please fix it. Trust us.’ And it didn’t work.”

With less money coming in, Turnipseed said he expects the city to start cutting back on certain services, which could lead to city facilities beginning to show wear and tear.

“They’re going to be able to buy less and less, and more things will become worn out, dilapidated, maintained,” he said. “Maybe a roof starts leaking because they can’t fix the roofs.”

With the next fiscal year’s budget deadline fast approach, the City Council, which saw all incumbents get re-elected on Tuesday, will need to come up with a plan to deal with the decline in revenue.

But not all hope has been lost in the city.

Councilman Ken Weir, the only member of the council to vote against adding the sales tax to the ballot, said he believes the City Council will be able to come up with a solution to its budget issues.

“Everybody said give the voters a chance,” he said. “They’ve had a chance and they’ve spoken. And we’ll move forward from there.”

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.

(10) comments

RefereeB

The vote was not only a referendum on taxes, but discontent with pensions and TandyLand’s “My way AND the highway” policies. The people have spoken and now we get to see if the City is listening...

Sheebe

Loved how you basically blackmailed us with words. Seems you don't know how to run a city. Or someone is dipping in the money. No I didn't vote for it. Why should I. Is more to it and you darn well know that. A lot see what is going on. Yet we read about a huge Amazon being built. This and that. Isn't that going to help?

Ledzepplin4800

I would be more concerned with the article that they just put out stating that they’re 67,000 and counting votes I’m not buying it. They said they’re professionals in doing more with less ,let’s just see if that’s true. Their job is to grow revenue and a fallen short four straight years good luck I’ll bet Monday we get a big shock IT PASSED

Athanasios

Off the bat, I will say that I voted for the increase. I am very disappointed that the city council really didn’t do anything to support this. Part of the tax was going to be used for pension obligations. I don’t like that but it’s a reality for all cities. You can thank CalPers and the fraud they perpetuated when generous pensions started to be granted. Well city council, time for you to lead. And, Mr. Weir, I would expect you to actually lead this effort since you were so confident an increase was not needed.

Athanasios

LOL at renegotiating pensions. Police and Fire Unions have no incentive to renegotiate because the vast majority of their membership are counting on this. If you think they will do this out of the goodness of their hearts you are going to be severely disappointed.

clsoca

Mr. Weir is correct. The City will need to go back to the bargaining table now and renegotiate pensions to that which are reasonable rather than what is currently offered, 3.0% @ 50. That is where the fat is.

Taxpayer

Hmmm, 3% @50 is long gone sir. For at least 10 years. But nice try blaming the budget woes on the people that would die trying to save your life. Currently employees pay 15% a pay check that goes into the stock market (you know aka the private sector) and money is made off the fund. If you and a couple thousand of your best buds want to put money into the stock market and let interest compound over 30 years you’d be sitting pretty sweet too. How about this, overtime for public safety employees is taxed at around 43%. So this old song and dance about police and firemen draining the taxpayers is elephant feces. I’m sorry you failed the test years ago and didn’t get hired. Those people whom you think are the scourge of scociety are out through California trying to save people from more devastating fires while you enjoy your weekend BBQ. Don’t be a hater!

clsoca

Wrong!!!!!! Wrong!!!!!! employees hired before the new employee pension formula still receive 3% at 50, that's whats breaking the bank. 2% at 55 is a more reasonable formula that can be sustained. Kinda funny how you folks like twisting the facts.

gkozy1

Is the future revenue actually decreasing? I have not heard of any tax reductions. Are we to expect some tax rebates?

DesertSon

It’ll be interesting to see where Weir finds the fat that can be trimmed from what’s described as a lean budget.

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