In 2014, two-thirds of Watsonville’s voters approved the Measure G one-half percent sales tax to fund police, fire and youth violence prevention services for five years. This year, it will provide almost $5 million in funding to the police and fire departments—more than 10 percent of the city’s $45 million budget, and about one-fifth of the total public safety budget.
The special tax costs each Watsonville resident, on average, about $1.75 a week, or $90 a year. It has provided the city with the means to hire additional officers, buy vehicles and uniforms and keep up with modern law enforcement requirements, which means beat officers, evidence technicians, crime analysts, body cameras and all-gender restrooms.
With that funding’s end, the city will most likely have to chop its public safety budget by 20 percent—or replace the revenue. The city has placed Measure Y on the March ballot, which would continue the tax and also include parks and community services expenditures for such items as playground equipment and youth services. The measure is supported by a coalition of community and business leaders, with no organized opposition.
Measure G spending has been overseen by a citizens’ committee that meets at least twice a year and reviews line item breakdowns, commissions a yearly audit and issues an annual report. The measure has done what it was supposed to do, and the crime rate has dropped.
Watsonville’s budget is smaller than other cities its size. Neighboring Gilroy, with a similar population, has a budget that’s $10 million bigger, with four times the reserves. Without the continued sales tax, Watsonville will have to shrink its budget and reduce services to residents.
In an ideal world, the city would not have to rely on a sales tax which taxes low income residents at the same rate as those of greater means (though people who spend less, pay less, of course). A municipal income tax is not possible, however, and other funding strategies, such as a parcel tax, would be passed on to renters through increases anyway.
Measure Y will prioritize necessary services such as paramedic emergency response, invest in improving parks and playgrounds and support the prevention of youth violence through after-school and summer programs. It allows the purchase of modern enforcement technology while providing innovative diversion programs for teen offenders through Caminos hacia el Éxito, which encourages good choices and coaches parents. Of the 109 youths that successfully completed Caminos, 83 percent remain arrest-free.
The city has responsibly managed Measure G funds and demonstrated results. It has improved its financial management since a 2013 Harvey Rose audit that identified key weaknesses, such as low reserves that have since been increased and should be augmented further, in our opinion.
The sensible strategy is to stay the course. Measure Y will not raise taxes; it will keep them the same as they are and allow the city to continue to adequately staff its public safety forces. To do otherwise green-lights poorly maintained parks, neglected youth, slower emergency response times and higher crime.
The Pajaronian recommends a Yes vote on Measure Y.