The city of Bakersfield has released a spending package it hopes will meet the expectations of thousands of Bakersfield residents that voted to increase the city’s sales tax last November.
If passed by the city council, the $71 million expenditure proposal would lead to the hiring of 126 new city employees, including 43 new police officers beginning this year, expanding the city’s capabilities in what officials hope is the near future.
The proposal sets in motion the city’s plan to hire 100 additional sworn officers over a three-year period, along with 56 support staff.
The increase would represent a 20 percent increase in the city’s patrol shift staffing and an increase in certain civilian-staffed offices within the police department from between 15 percent to 50 percent.
“Adding 100 police officers over a three-year period is aggressive,” Police Chief Lyle Martin said at a meeting of the sales tax oversight committee on Monday.
Martin said the citizens of Bakersfield won't accept anything less than an aggressive plan.
The city hopes to launch the first phase of the hiring process next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“This is not a usual budget for the city,” said City Manager Alan Tandy. “This is very, very different than (our past budgets) and is unique in our city’s history.”
Since 2008, the city had been doing what it could with the limited funds at its disposal, holding on to what staff it could while it cut costs, Tandy said.
But the city has big plans on how to spend the revenue it will earn by raising the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent.
The Public Safety/Vital Services Oversight Committee heard most of the proposal on Monday, having received a draft on $14.5 million worth of spending – or the spending that will be available from revenue collected during this fiscal year – at its first meeting.
“When somebody asks, ‘is that a good expenditure of money,’ I’d love to be able to tell them enthusiastically, ‘you bet it was, and here’s why,’” said committee member Barry Hibbard.
The committee voted to recommend this fiscal year’s spending, which includes the city’s plan to shift $12 million to its cash reserves in order to reduce payments to its pension system by $8.7 million over seven years.
The city can move forward without committee approval, however, only the council has the power of the purse.
In addition to the hiring, the city plans to equip all of its police officers with body cameras and upgrade its radio system from analog to digital, which is expected to cost $17 million.
The city also plans to hire 23 fire department staff over two years, allocate $9 million to low-income housing, upgrade Rabobank Arena, and create two “rapid response” teams for homelessness mitigation.
Kern County Taxpayer Association Executive Director Michael Turnipseed cautioned that the city needed to track the return on investment for all of its spending projects.
Tandy said the city had plans to keep track of how its projects affected Bakersfield at large.