Los Banos

Los Banos voters to weigh half-percent sales tax hike to fund city services

Los Banos Police Department

Los Banos residents will vote in November on whether the city’s retail sales and use tax should increase from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent to help fund a wide range of city improvements, including police, fire and emergency response, youth violence prevention and road repairs.

A ‘yes” vote on the ballot initiative, Measure H, would raise the sales tax a half-percent to raise about $2.5 million annually for 15 years, according to the question as submitted to the Merced County Registrar of Voters’ Office. The tax increase wouldn’t apply to property taxes or food purchased as groceries or prescription medication.

The general purpose funds could be used by the city “for any legitimate governmental purpose such as fire and police protection, traffic safety, street and sidewalk repair, park maintenance, and general administration of the city,” according to an impartial analysis by William Vaughn, the city attorney.

After surveying residents on the needs of the city, the Los Banos City Council approved a list of spending priorities the measure would fund, City Manager Alex Terrazas said.

According to the priorities, 45 percent would fund maintaining police patrols and crime prevention, including enhancing neighborhood patrols, adding additional sworn officers and preventing theft and property crimes.

“We’re down in personnel both in police, fire and dispatch,” Terrazas said. “It’s definitely a huge priority for us to add back personnel that was eliminated during (the recession).”

About 15 percent of Measure H funds would be used for resources to improve efficiency and performance of firefighters. Another 15 percent would go toward maintaining park safety, cleanliness and beautification and providing funding for recreation facilities, such as a public pool.

Cleaning up graffiti, homeless response and blight eradication would constitute 5 percent, with another 5 percent going toward adding youth programs and reducing gang influence, and the last 5 percent allocated for maintaining long-term financial stability.

“The community is growing and this is in response to what we’re hearing in the community,” Terrazas said. “This new revenue will help address that growth and provide quality services to that growing community.”

The measure would not go toward building a new police station or fire station, said Terrazas, adding the city is in the process of acquiring property for a new police station but intends to do so using funds from Measure P, which was previously passed for police and fire facilities and positions.

A citizen oversight committee, appointed by the City Council, would be established to safeguard the use of these public funds, evaluate projects and make recommendations to the City Council on the next year’s Measure H projects, the analysis states. Also, independent auditors would conduct an annual report tracking Measure H revenue and how it’s spent.

The ballot measure needs a majority of “yes” votes to pass, according to the analysis.

Measure H has officially been endorsed by former Mayor Michael Amabile, former City Council member Elizabeth Stonegrove, Los Banos Unified School District Superintendent Mark Marshall, retired Fire Chief Tim Marrison and Measure P Oversight committee board member Deborah DJ Barcellos.