City officials presented a plan at a City Council meeting Monday for the use of Measure H sales tax revenue that included restoring police officer salaries, hiring additional officers and leasing five new patrol vehicles.
Measure H, a half-cent tax hike for all transactions, passed with a 67.1 percent vote in March 2013. Officials said the tax revenue would be used to support public safety services in Atwater.
City Manager and Police Chief Frank Pietro said the Measure H tax has accumulated to $541,000 from July through September. The tax went into effect July 1 and the city received its first payment in September.
Bill Zenoni, the city’s contract finance director, said the state Board of Equalization, which handles disbursing the money to Atwater, overpaid the city by roughly $242,198. “It was a clerical error that nobody caught,” Zenoni said. “We should not have a situation like this where they overpaid us such a large amount. The adjustments are usually small.”
The state corrected the issue by withholding payments for December, January and part of February. The city is on track to have a projected $1.3 million from Measure H by the end of the year.
The plan outlined Monday would use about $1.2 million to add one lieutenant, one sergeant, one code enforcement officer, two reserve officers, two community service officers and one dispatcher to the force.
The money would also be used to restore the slashed salaries of some officers and to lease five new patrol vehicles. There would be about $143,585 left in the Measure H account after all those expenditures.
Pietro said he expects to begin the hiring process within the next 30 days.
“Nobody wants more police officers on the street (more) than me. I’m the biggest supporter of that,” Pietro said. “I’ve had to eliminate nine positions since I was here and I didn’t want to eliminate any more. We wanted to make sure that the money was there.”
Also on Monday, the city attorney stepped in to clarify a policy that has caused several members of the Measure H oversight committee to clash over the past several weeks.
At issue is whether two members of the oversight committee, Eric Lee and Linda Dash, can serve on both the oversight committee and two other commissions. Lee serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission and Dash was recently appointed to the Planning Commission.
“In my mind, it comes down to a matter of conflict of interest,” said Jim Price, co-chairman of the Measure H oversight committee. “It’s not my personal preference to bounce these people off the committee; it’s merely about getting it right.”
As part of the new tax ordinance, Pietro established a five-member citizens’ oversight committee and appointed its members. The ordinance said committee members “shall not be current city of Atwater employees, officials, contractors or vendors of the city.”
Since Dash and Lee serve on two other committees, Price said, they could be considered city “officials,” especially Dash, who was sworn in as a planning commissioner.
City Attorney Thomas Terpstra tried to clarify the term “officials” Monday, but ultimately recommended revising the ordinance to be more specific.
“I believe that the term ‘official’ means any person who is not an employee, but who performs the duties and functions of employees in the city of Atwater, for some sort of compensation,” Terpstra said. Price pointed out that Dash receives compensation as a planning commissioner, which would qualify her as an “official.”
Lee, committee chairman, addressed questions about whether he should be allowed to serve on the committee. “I’m giving up my time to do this,” he said. “I’m willing to do that and I’m willing to do the job that two-thirds of the voters voted in.”
Atwater Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham said he would rather see people contribute positively to the city’s government than throw “sticks and stones.”
“It’s a sad day for the city of Atwater when not only do we have to dedicate an agenda item to define the term ‘official,’ but we’re citing government code over people who freely volunteer their time to help the city of Atwater,” Mooneyham said.
City leaders will consider expanding the Measure H oversight committee from five members to seven during the next council meeting on Feb. 24. An oversight committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in the council chamber at 750 Bellevue Road. The meeting is open to the public.