RIVERSIDE – A proposed Hemet sales tax increase to support the police and fire departments fell just short of the votes needed for approval, while Riverside residents soundly rejecting an increase in council members’ pay and a bid to make the city attorney’s office responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor crimes.
Hemet residents generally supported Measure “E” during Tuesday’s election, but the proposal fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage as vote-counting wrapped up early this morning.
The measure called for an additional 1-cent-per-item levy on most sales transactions within the city. The measure would have also required that future city councils budget 72 percent of the general fund exclusively for public safety.
Proponents said crime is surging and police and firefighter staffing is down by double-digits compared to six years ago – by 25 percent in the law enforcement ranks, and 40 percent among fire personnel.
“Because of a decline in property and sales tax revenue caused by the Great Recession, the city lacks the resources to confront our growing public safety crisis,” according to a statement by the pro-Measure E camp. “More boots on the ground will force criminals to go elsewhere and keep Hemet safe.”
They cited the need for 39 additional peace officers, as well as paramedics at every fire station.
Measure E opponents countered that crime is up throughout Riverside County and enlarging the burden on consumers’ pocketbooks is not the solution.
“Neither cutting wasteful spending nor insisting upon better management of our public safety departments was given remote consideration,” according to a statement released by the Hemet Taxpayers Association. “Why? Because they want the cash!”
The association insisted that “Hemet doesn’t have a revenue problem – Hemet has a spending problem.”
Measure E opponents said public employee unions are focused mainly on fattening their appropriations for perks and benefits, ignoring the city’s $80 million unfunded pension liability. The anti-E group further complained that hiking sales taxes will make local merchants less competitive when consumers only need travel just outside the city limits to pay a bit less for goods.
In Riverside, voters shot down Measures “A” and “B.”
The first, which has generated the most debate, would have taken misdemeanor prosecutions out of the hands of Riverside County deputy district attorneys and made them the responsibility of a new unit within the city attorney’s office. All misdemeanor offenses occurring in Riverside would have been handled by city prosecutors.
The proposal would have cost an estimated $2.5 million annually, prompting opponents to ask how the city could afford it when it’s already contending with a $7.2 million deficit.
Measure A supporters answered that the overall cost amounts to two-tenths of 1 percent of the city’s entire fiscal year budget for 2015-16.
The pro-A crowd pointed to the successes of other municipalities that have shifted to “neighborhood prosecutions,” including Anaheim, Pasadena and San Diego.
“This involves a long-term problem-solving approach between law enforcement, the city prosecutor, homeowner associations and business groups,” according to a statement by supporters. “It works toward stopping crime before it happens, rather than reacting to crime after it happens.”
The Riverside County Deputy District Attorneys Association, as well as the Riverside police officers’ union, both came out strongly against the measure.
“Why would Riverside create a bureaucracy that duplicates services now provided by the county?” opponents said in a statement. “Unlike the appointed city attorney, our elected district attorney answers to the people. Coordination between the DA and local law enforcement has worked well for many years.”
Supporters included Riverside police Chief Sergio Diaz and Mayor Rusty Bailey.
Measure B sought to boost council members’ salaries by 60 percent. Under the proposal, members’ monthly compensation would have been reset to 80 percent of what the mayor earns, which is about $6,897 a month. Thus, members’ current $3,448 in monthly pay would have been raised to roughly $5,520.
The increase would have cost the city an additional $173,880 annually, according to budget analysts.
Councilmen Paul Davis, Mike Gardner, Andy Melendrez and Mike Soubirous said the increase was justified because Riverside is a “billion-dollar municipal corporation” that needs a full-time, not a part-time, council.
There was no listed opposition.