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.”