Temecula police will reap the first fruits of a sales tax increase that city voters narrowly approved at the polls Nov. 8. The council decision means Temecula will soon fill three vacant police positions and create seven more, a surge that will allow the city to meet its target of one officer for each 1,000 residents.
Councilman Mike Naggar pressed for a rapid decision because he felt the city had been stung by a series of rumors in the waning days of the hard-fought Measure S campaign.
“All kinds of nasty things” surfaced as Nov. 8 approached, he said. Those comments included speculation that the tax increase was intended as a means to fund “pet projects” favored by various council members, Naggar said.
Naggar detailed his concerns during the council’s Dec. 13 meeting. The police spending decision came at the Jan. 10 meeting following a brief discussion. The council’s vote made it clear that the city’s top priorities are safe neighborhoods and keeping the city’s crime rate low, Mayor Mary Ann Edwards said afterward.
Boosting police staffing was one of the key goals identified by the city when leaders scheduled the ballot measure. Opposition was stiff, and the tax increase passed by fewer than 800 votes, a slim 2 percent margin. Passage came after a contentious campaign, and foes were vastly outspent by such advocates as the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The slim margin was a sharp contrast to the city’s previous bid for a tax increase. The 1997 property tax assessment, which added about $77 a year to the average homeowner’s bill, was passed by 78 percent of the city’s voters.
City and business leaders argued that Temecula’s quality of life would plummet if Measure S did not pass. They warned that rising operating costs could force the council to make crippling spending cuts to police patrols and other key services. Measure S foes countered that the city should further tighten its belt before seeking a tax increase.
A majority of voters was sufficient to approve the measure, not a 2/3rds margin as is required with some tax increases. The funds generated by the measure can be used for a range of city services rather than one specific use.
City officials have estimated that the average Temecula family will pay $30 to $40 a year more in taxes as a result of the measure’s recent passage. The city will get all the funds generated by the tax increase.
Before the vote, an 8 percent sales tax rate was paid by shoppers in Temecula and most parts of Riverside County. The lion’s share of that amount goes to the state, the county and regional and countywide road and bridge improvements. Temecula receives 1 percent of the standard amount.
Sales tax represents about half of Temecula’s operations revenue. That category dwarfs the city’s property tax revenues, which total about 11 percent of the city’s nearly $70 million operations budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Temecula council members unanimously voted in July to spend about $137,000 to put the tax measure on the ballot, but state law prevented the city from spending funds to promote the measure’s passage.
The measure is expected pump an additional $23 million a year into a city fund that pays for police, fire, public works, planning and a range of other services. The city will begin receiving income from the tax increase April 1. The revenue will total $5.75 million by the June 30 close of the current fiscal year.
The 10 new police positions will cost nearly $900,000 in the current fiscal year, according to a city report. The cost to fund all 10 new positions will total nearly $3.1 million over an entire fiscal year. The city, which contracts with the county for law enforcement services, currently employs 100 police officers, detectives and other police personnel.
Due to funding shortages, three of the positions to be filled have been vacant for many budget cycles. They are a motorcycle patrol officer, a traffic accident investigator and a member of the special enforcement team.
The other seven positions consist of four patrol officers, one additional motorcycle officer, and two members of the city’s problem-oriented police unit. As part of the increased staffing, the city will spend $125,000 on training, uniforms and new motorcycles.
The city will also add an 11th new officer to the payroll soon. That position will be funded by the Pechanga Indian tribe as part of its gaming agreement with the state. That funding will total $144,500 for the remainder of this fiscal year. The new officer will primarily patrol south Temecula and other areas near or in the casino, according to the city report.
City officials said they will soon begin discussing other uses for the remainder of the new revenues that will become available in this fiscal year.