ATWATER — Voters passed a special tax Tuesday to support public safety in their city.
The vote was too close to call late last night since provisional ballots and vote-by-mail ballots turned in at the polls still needed to be counted.
This morning, Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey confirmed that the special tax passed with 67.1 percent of the vote. Since the tax is specifically earmarked for public safety, it needed two-thirds of the vote to pass. The final vote tally was 1,822 "yes" votes and 895 "no" votes.
Measure H opponent Fred Warchol, an Atwater planning commissioner, predicted Tuesday that the measure would pass despite the tight margin.
He had mixed feelings about the additional half-cent sales tax.
"I'm glad because our police will be getting some badly needed support from this Measure H," he said.
However, he said City Hall has done a poor job of managing money in the past, and he thinks the city will come back to the voters looking for more money in the future.
With the measure leading Tuesday night, Bob Calaway, a former Atwater police chief and backer of Measure H, said he thinks the community will be stronger and more secure because of the tax.
"I feel extremely good and if it continues like it is, then I think we've overcome a major challenge," he said. "I'm just very, very happy that the majority of our citizens are stepping forward."
Emergency services have been through hard times since the city's budget has been hit with significant revenue losses.
Staffing is down in the Police Department, which has dropped to 26 sworn officers from 36 in 2007. Officials say police and fire equipment is worn out and needs to be replaced.
The Atwater Police Officers Association took a 22 percent pay cut late last year to help the city out of a financial crisis that threatened bankruptcy.
Without that sacrifice, officials claim the city wouldn't have been able to fix its finances.
Measure H will generate more than $1 million in revenue for public safety. The tax will last for a maximum of 10 years.
Serafin Mercado, a 45-year-old Atwater resident, voted against Measure H because he thinks the city can find the revenue through other means instead of burdening citizens with another tax.
With money mismanagement on the local and state levels, Mercado doesn't trust government with any additional sources of tax-generated revenues.
But a 72-year-old Atwater resident had a different opinion about Measure H as she left the polls Tuesday afternoon.
Not long ago, her Atwater home was burglarized. She thinks public safety needs more money to help prevent crimes such as the one that happened to her.
Fearing she might be targeted again, she declined to give her name to the Sun-Star.
Without adequate funding and manpower, the police would have to prioritize calls, she said. Though some calls might not be as serious as others, she wants to be sure she'll get assistance when she needs it.
There are 11,645 registered voters in Atwater. Tuesday's special election cost the city about $50,000.
Visit www.mercedsunstar.com today for updates on Tuesday's election.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.