The Riverside County Registrar of Voters certified the Nov. 8 election results Tuesday, Dec. 6, and Temecula’s Measure S, which previously had been too close to call, has passed with 51 percent of voters casting their ballot in favor of the sometimes-controversial measure.
The announcement means an additional $23 million a year will go into a city fund that pays for police, fire, public works, planning and a range of other services. Other services that will benefit from the tax measure include school safety patrols, traffic mitigation and youth, senior and disabled services. There are also safeguards in place to ensure the money collected is being used as intended, according to a press release issued by the city.
“Measure S includes strict accountability provisions, including annual independent financial audits, public review of expenditures, and ensures that all funds remain in Temecula and cannot be taken by Sacramento. These fiscal safeguards ensure local funds continue to be used efficiently and effectively for local needs,” the release reports.
“The city was very proactive in bringing this forward, and citizens were wise to pass it,” Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar said in an emailed statement to Valley News. “The advent of AB 109 and the passage of Prop 47 two years ago, and now the passage of Prop 57, is putting criminals on the street who should be in jail. The increase in public safety costs, we knew were coming in two years now allow the city to respond to it proactively, instead of in a crises mode.”
City Manager Aaron Adams agreed with Naggar’s assessment.
“The passage of Measure S is very significant to the city of Temecula today and well into the future, truly a defining moment,” Adams said. “Measure S will afford the city the ability to enhance and maintain a high level of public safety resources for both police and fire.”
Adams said that Measure S will afford the city the ability to “re-invest these dollars into maintaining a great city through streets, parks and facilities,” as well as allow the city to consider investment in unfunded and partially funded capital projects that residents may be interested in seeing come to fruition.
“Measure S was always viewed as an initiative to preserve and enhance the high quality of life we all enjoy and we intend to continue to be good fiscal stewards of this opportunity and trust,” Adams said. “As public servants, we strive and desire to leave a community better than when we started. I believe Measure S will allow this to occur today and for future Temecula leadership.”
Temecula City Councilman Matt Rahn, who worked on the Measure S subcommittee with fellow councilman Jeff Commerchero, said that the city faced “fundamental challenges to public safety, infrastructure and community services” in the past year that would have “diminished our accomplishments and pushed us into mediocrity.”
“The decision to place Measure S on the ballot was done after a very rigorous and thorough analysis, public outreach and discussion,” Rahn said. “We have a strong foundation on which to build the Temecula of tomorrow; the decision our residents made helps preserve the city’s distinctive character, our quality of life and ensures a vibrant future for decades to come.”
Naggar said he will ask for an agenda item in January to “start the discussion and process of hiring 10 more officers as soon as possible.”
“We will also discuss opening fire station 95,” he said. “We will begin to see how we can accelerate some major road improvements, and we will also begin capital improvements on existing roads and facilities.”
Currently, an 8 percent sales tax rate is paid by most consumers in the county. Of that amount, 4 and one-quarter percent goes to the state, 2 and one-quarter percent goes to the county and one-half percent is earmarked for regional and countywide road and bridge improvements. Temecula and 24 other cities currently receive 1 percent of the total collected.
Adams said it is important to remember that the city of Temecula sales tax rate will be lowered by a quarter of a percent Jan. 1 of the coming year making the actual sales tax rate 7.75 percent until Measure S becomes effective April 1.
“This is related to the State of California expiration of the temporary sales tax increase of 0.25 percent passed by voters in 2012 under Prop 30,” Adams explained. “This change has no financial bearing on the city of Temecula revenue. Beginning April 1, 2017, with the passage of Measure S, the City of Temecula’s new sales tax rate will become 8.75 percent, of which 2 percent comes directly to the city.”
Sales taxes represent about half Temecula’s operations revenue. That category dwarfs the city’s property tax revenues, which total about 11 percent of the nearly $70 million operations budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
City officials predict revenues will exceed expenditures by a mere $270,288 in the current fiscal year. Spending is projected to surpass revenues by about $700,000 the following year. That deficit is expected to grow to about $4.3 million by fiscal year 2020-21, according to city projections.
One of the measure’s more vocal opponents, Paul Jacobs, a former city traffic commissioner who unsuccessfully ran for the council in the past, said the measure never would have passed had it been dedicated to public safety requiring a two-thirds voter approval. The final tally showed a mere 776 votes between the passage or failure of Measure S.
“A handful of Temecula residents put forth a remarkable independent, grassroots effort against a highly organized, extremely well-funded, thuggish campaign,” Jacobs said. “Citizens made it a closer contest than any other city with similar tax measures.”
Two other local cities, Menifee and Hemet also had 1 percent sales tax increases on their ballots. Hemet’s Measure U passed with 61 percent of the vote while Menifee’s Measure DD was overwhelmingly approved with more than 68 percent of the vote.
According to Jacobs, the ballot language did not inform voters that the $23 million generated annually from the tax increase goes “directly into the General Fund, to be spent at the city’s discretion.”
“The city coordinated the Measure S campaign by partnering with the Chamber of Commerce and bankrolling it through Pechanga, CR&R, developers and other political and professional acquaintances,” he said. “The passage of this tax measure is unfortunate for the local businesses that will suffer and the decreased employment opportunities Temeculans will face as some business shifts to Murrieta and other nearby cities, in what economists refer to as ‘the border effect.’”
Meanwhile, Temecula’s leaders hopeful that the funds raised from Measure S will be enough to keep the city afloat without having to drain reserves and vows to ensure that transparency on how the money is spent will be made available to all interested parties.
“I want to thank the citizens that saw the wisdom in this measure,” Naggar said. “To those that did not support it, we will offer our continued accountability and transparency in all of our financial affairs. We will communicate clearly how our funds are spent and we will continue to take community input as always.”
For more information about Measure S, visit www.cityoftemecula.org/MeasureS.htm.
The final, official election results and statement of votes are available on the Registrar of Voters’ website at www.voteinfo.net.