KINGSBURG – As the June 5 elections get closer, you’ll likely see Kingsburg police, fire fighters and City Council members pounding the pavement.
After giving the green light to put a general sales tax measure before voters June 5, Kingsburg City Council members say now they’ll need to get the word out to voters as to why the extra $700,000 is needed each year. Fire and police staffs say they, too, are willing to do what it takes to promote the measure.
“What is says in our proposed ballot language is very easy reading,” Councilman Bruce Blayney said. “We’ve got to go ahead and share the supporting stories and background information.”
Council approved the ballot measure’s language at its Feb. 7 meeting and will be asking voters to approve an additional .75 percent sales tax. Currently, the sales tax is 7.98 percent. If approved, the tax would be 8.73 percent. The measure would raise an estimated $700,000 each year. After 10 years, it would end. To pass, the measure must garner a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote.
Police and fire department members on hand at the meeting predicted voters would be more in favor of the tax if they realized how dire the equipment and staffing needs are in both departments.
Kingsburg Police Officers Association President Rick Mejia said their department wants to provide quality service for the community, but is stymied by its staffing levels.
“When there is a life or death situation, we want to be there in a timely manner. When we’re tied up on something where we just can’t leave, then we’re relying on the sheriff’s office to respond to assist. That’s something we think should stop.”
Mejia said the officers are ready to knock on doors, if necessary, to inform citizens of the need for funds.
“We need to present this in a way for the citizens to see we need their help now for us to help them the way we know we can do it.”
Police Chief Neil Dadian said he’s looking for collaboration and flexibility when it comes to plans for the funds.
“The plans that Chief Ray and I submitted represent our best projection at that time. I think it important to use these as a general guide, but not be so locked in that it would preclude flexibility based on the needs at the time.”
Fire Chief Tim Ray said aging equipment is putting firefighters’ lives on the line.
“By law, you have to have four people there before you can make entry into burning structure. One person just can’t do it, so we have to rely on mutual aid from other departments. For the most part, it works but there are a lot of times where our guys are responding by themselves,” Ray said.
While staffing is back to pre-layoff levels, Ray said it’s been years since aging equipment has been replaced. National Fire Protection Agency guidelines require fire equipment to be replaced every 10 years but Kingsburg’s newest engine is 16 years old. The other is from 1985. Replacing a fire engine will cost around $500,000, he said.
“As far as equipment we’ve been kicking the can down the road for quite a while,” Ray said. “When the Thomas fire broke out in the [Los Angeles] area, both engines went. For a period of roughly eight hours, the city had no engine to respond at all.”
The Council is looking to appeal to a cross section of voters as some of the raised tax funds will pay for parks and recreation projects such as a soccer field.
While Mayor Michelle Roman said some voters will likely want to hear specific dollar amounts, Blayney thinks flexibility should be allowed.
“The first year, we may have to put a lot more toward the police department. Then the next year, we may have to flip it around and put more toward the fire department.”
City Manager Alex Henderson said that the proposal is for general sales tax, the monies raised would go into the general fund.
“To the voters, that’s where the tough sale’s going to be,” Roman said. While residents are supportive of both the police and fire departments, she said they hesitate when it comes to willingness to pay more taxes.
“Everybody supports [having more firefighters and more police officers], but when you get down to the nitty-gritty of would you support a tax, you saw what happened when we talked about a property tax. People stopped right there,” Roman said.
An earlier online survey showed there is currently a 60 percent approval rate for the sales tax, Henderson said.
For more information about the measure, log on to http://cityofkingsburg-ca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/772