When asked why the time was right for Lake Elsinore to put Measure Z, a 1-cent sales tax to help the city address service, public safety and local recovery needs, on the ballot in November, City manager Grant Yates said it was a good question.
“We have a very fiscally responsible and conservative city council, and we have been trying to grow our way out of a structural deficit,” Yates said. “We spent the last as many years as I’ve been here, basically doing one-time moves, maximizing vacant property, getting Launch Pointe going, doing some bond deals. Everything we could to basically put the city in the best financial position possible.
“The finances in the state of California are very difficult for a city to provide a high level of service, grow if you will, on a budget that is structurally deficit.
“And that’s really where we are right now. We have done everything we can. We’ve even unfunded a fire engine in Station 10 over the last couple of years to try to balance a budget and then try to make it work,” Yates said.
Nearby cities such as Temecula, Murrieta and Wildomar passed similar measures in recent years. Yates said the city has done everything they can to stave off such a move, but now is the time.
“We’ve really worked hard to make sure that when we get to this point, we have exhausted every opportunity we can to try to make it work,” Yates said. “So, the council came to the realization that to be the great city that we want to be and that we strive to be and that we’re working toward, we have to have financial stability.
“We’re also concerned that if we don’t make this move, the county or the state will down the road, and then we’ll never have this opportunity again. We realized that it’s not going to be enough to go where we think the community wants us to be. Therefore we’re asking the community to tell us if they want to enact this, like every other city in southwest Riverside County,” he said.
According to the city, the measure will generate $10 million per year that will go into the city’s general fund, and usage of the funds will be monitored by an oversight committee.
“The areas we’re targeting are police and fire and homeless and special teams on the police department, reducing gang and drug activity, emergency management, sidewalks, potholes, street repairs, all of the above really is what we’re talking about putting this money toward,” Yates said. “A citizen oversight committee that will be connected to this and they will meet twice a year, and they’ll make sure that the city is spending the money as intended and will provide input on ways to spend the money.”
The council put the measure on the ballot in July with a 4-0 vote and councilmember Steve Manos absent. According to Yates, getting to that point included a lot of community outreach.
“We think this will be effective because we have spent a lot of time connecting with our community,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of interaction with the community with formal surveys. We have had lots and lots of face-to-face meetings. We did what we call ‘Let’s Talk Lake Elsinore.’ We were out in the community before COVID-19 hit and talked to them, dozens and dozens of groups and hundreds of people.
“We basically believe that the citizens are telling us that they want to be a great city. They want to have great public safety services. They want to have great roads. They want to have homeless issues addressed. When you put it together, you need to have the resources to do that. Our understanding is that the community wants all the good things that go along with having a dedicated revenue stream.
“And we have a track record of performing and providing services in a way that are fiscally prudent and that allow for positive changes that happen in the city. We think the time is right for this question to be asked to the residents,” he said.
Yates said he is cognizant of the dilemma that local businesses are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on business and how it isn’t the best time to be adding to the sales tax in the city.
“The timing is always a concern, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the economy and for the residents to be voting on this measure,” he said. “But, we think that it’s also an opportunity to do it now before something really bad happens and we didn’t take an opportunity to ask our citizens.”
For more information on the measure, visit http://www.lake-elsinore.org/residents/measure-z.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.