Bakersfield’s sales tax oversight committee continued to review plans to spend tens of millions in new revenue at a meeting Monday.
It was the committee's first evening meeting, which was scheduled to give citizens the opportunity to make public comment on the $71 million in new sales tax revenue the city expects to bring in over the next 15 months. City voters narrowly approved the tax increase of 1 cent per every dollar spent in November. The increase takes effect April 1.
However, few people took the opportunity to make public comment, with only four people making statements.
At Monday's meeting, city staffers proposed new ways to mitigate homelessness, improve parts of the city’s parks system and retrofit decorative street light poles.
Previously the committee heard plans to spend roughly $25 million to hire 100 new police officers and dozens of support staffers for the police, outfit all police officers with body cameras and purchase new fire equipment. The committee also recommended shifting $12 million in new tax receipts to its cash reserves in order to reduce payments to its pension system by $8.7 million over seven years.
The oversight committee was not scheduled to vote on any proposals.
Up first, Development Services Director Jacqui Kitchen spoke of the need for the city to expand her department.
With the added revenue, the city plans to add 21 new staff to Development Services.
Part of the money will go to creating two “rapid response teams” to deal with code enforcement issues that crop up from homeless issues.
A total of 16 employees would deal with litter, field complaints from business owners in a more timely manner, and work to clean up the effects of homelessness.
Importantly, Kitchen noted that the teams would be available seven days a week. Currently, the city only responds to code enforcement issues Monday through Friday.
"We see the need to address homelessness goes beyond normal business hours," she said.
The city experienced a 313 percent increase in requests for service on its mobile app from 2014 to 2017.
The city's Recreation and Parks Department will also create a rapid response team to aid with vandalism issues.
Other spending priorities include:
- Add four softball fields to the Mesa Marin Sports Complex as well as pickleball and basketball courts, expected to cost about $7.9 million.
- Build a new transitional housing shelter for homeless people, which should cost around $5 million.
- Spend $4 million to provide "bridge housing" to those who have been denied other forms of housing assistance due to substance abuse or mental health problems. Many housing programs in Bakersfield will not allow somebody to be housed if they currently have pets, are in a relationship or use alcohol or drugs, forcing those people to live on the street. However, the city hopes that providing housing for those struggling with addiction can lead to them connecting to services, eventually lifting them out of homelessness.
- Retrofit decorative street light poles with LED, which is expected to cost $1.1 million.
- Expand the city's Public Works department, adding 10 employees with expected salaries of $811,413.