As you may be aware, your Police Department took a significant hit after the city was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy last fall. City leaders informed us that if we did not voluntarily take a 22 percent salary and benefits cut, they would be forced to proceed with their filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
Most likely, that would have resulted in the city's inability to pay for many services, including police protection, resulting in having the Merced County Sheriff's Department take over the law enforcement role.
No one wanted this, but that was the situation we faced.
How the city got into this predicament is rather moot at this point. What is important, however, is how we move forward in stabilizing the situation, helping the city to avoid such fiscal issues in the future, for the benefit of the citizens of Atwater as well as their employees. The APOA took it upon itself to work with the city on this issue at very significant personal sacrifice to every sworn officer.
Some facts: Just a few years ago, the APOA worked out a five-year program with the city that would allow our officers to come into parity with wages and benefits of surrounding law enforcement agencies. This was done to keep and attract new hires. Unfortunately, we never reached that goal.
In 2011 we helped the city by forgoing our contracted cost-of-living increases along with several other concessions. As mentioned above, this past year we agreed to more concessions.
Coupled with this, we have lost 10 sworn officer positions, 25 percent of your police staff. We should, according to optimum staffing standards, have two officers for each 1,000 residents, which would be 56 officers, yet we now have just 26 officers, or 46 percent of that staffing level.
This affects not only our department's operational standards for responding to calls but, more importantly, places every citizen at a greater risk and creates more dangerous situations for your first responders.
To make matters worse, crime in our state is increasing at an alarming rate and the Legislature's passage of Assembly Bill 109, the poorly written prison realignment bill, has inadvertently increased this problem by allowing our communities to become dumping grounds for released felons.
Measure H can, in the least, provide badly needed revenue to help stave off further cuts to your police and fire departments, and help stabilize a tenuous situation with a very minimal one-half cent sales tax increase and only for a specific time frame. It amounts to only 50 cents per $100 in sales of taxable items, just $5 for a $1,000 purchase. Surely this is a very reasonable amount to pay to preserve your police and fire protection.
It is very disturbing that certain prominent individuals in our community have gone door to door and to the media spreading erroneous information about the city's dire fiscal situation. Anyone following this issue and with common sense should understand that Atwater barely escaped filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy late last year.
Please don't let us become another Stockton or Vallejo. Please help us stabilize the situation and move forward. Atwater is a wonderful city, and your police officers and firefighters would like to protect you to the best of our ability and keep it that way. We need a two-thirds majority vote on this issue, and we ask that you urge your friends and neighbors to vote yes on Measure H.
Remember, we are not just your first responders, but your neighbors, too.
Cardoza is president of the Atwater Police Officers Association.