SELMA – With a new member sworn in and plans to compile information in a more user-friendly format, the Measure S Oversight Committee got to business at its Jan. 31 meeting.
Measure S is the half-cent sales tax approved by 86 percent of Selma voters in November 2007. The measure’s purpose is to raise funds earmarked for the town’s police and fire departments. The funds were intended to replace and upgrade equipment and facilities, as well as hire new public safety personnel.
The oversight committee is an independent citizens’ audit group set up to ensure Measure S funds are being spent appropriately. The current chair is Jennifer Earle and members include Mike Ridgway, Char Tucker and Karl Salazar. Brandon Shoemaker was sworn in to fill a vacancy that night.
At this January meeting, a total of $8.1 million in police and fire department expenses were approved for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Selma’s Finance Department Manager Isaac Moreno walked through a summary showing that $4.9 million Measure S dollars were spent on the police while $3.2 was spent on the fire department. This adds up to $8.1 million.
“When the resolution was passed in prior years, the expectation we have to meet is 59 percent of the general fund and you can see we’re well over that amount,” Moreno said.
Since the total city budget last year was $12.4 million, the city would have needed to spend $7.3 million on safety. They exceeded that by $795,768. Thus, the city spent 65.37 percent of its budget on safety last year.
The balance in the Measure S account as of June 30, 2017 is $546,754.
Moreno said while $51,252 in Measure S money was used to get a new police station before voters, future expenses for that project will come from its own fund. That money was spent covering the cost of paying DSJ Architects, Godbe Corporation, Lee Central California and NHA Financial Advisors.
“That has now shifted and all expenditures for the PD station are now via either the bond itself of the state appropriation order received,” he said. The $51,252 will not be refunded from the police bond monies, Morales said.
A final page in the Measure S summary showed the city received $1.69 million last year in Measure S taxes.
New committee member Shoemaker pressed to meet more often so citizens could give more input, however his motion was not approved. The vote was 3-2 against the idea with Salazar being the only other committee member in favor of the idea.
“We’d have the opportunity to take some of the mystery out of Measure S and what’s going on by meeting quarterly. We’d be giving citizens an opportunity to come on a regular basis and hear what’s going on and field questions,” Shoemaker said.
Chairwoman Earle said there were earlier discussions to meet twice instead of only once per year, however she didn’t see the need.
“Because of changes in city management, that didn’t happen,” she said of plans to have a second meeting when then-City Manager Dave Elias.
Committee member Ridgway said since the committee doesn’t direct the city as to how to spend the Measure S monies, but rather serves as oversight body, he didn’t see the point of having more meetings.
“We don’t tell or direct the city as to how to spend the funds. We just review and do a report that says the funds were spent according to the stipulation of Measure S.”
Committee member Tucker also wondered what would be accomplished by having more frequent meetings since they “don’t have any say where this money goes, per se, during the quarter.”
The city’s police and fire chiefs were in attendance and said they’re always willing to answer questions about Measure S expenses. Moreno said residents could also attend City Council meetings to ask questions. Shoemaker said he understands city officials have an open-door policy but in reality most citizens are either intimidated to make those calls or are overwhelmed in their attempts to wade through the financial documents.
“The benefit of quarterly meetings is for everybody else who doesn’t have the opportunity to call the chief directly or the city manager or the finance director. And as the ordinance says, we’re supposed to meet twice a year,” he said.
Shoemaker related another resident’s attempt to track down basic information about equipment that’s been purchased with Measure S funds. Shoemaker said he’s looked through the documents provided by the city but the information still wasn’t clear.
“I’ve spent the past three days looking through [the financial reports]. But today, sitting here, you can’t tell me how many police cars we’ve acquired with Measure S monies?”
Quarterly and annual reports are available on the city’s website regarding Measure S, however Shoemaker said those are confusing for the average citizen to understand and not everyone has access to computers and printers.
“We have a link on the website for Measure S and we say go there and check. But even [City Clerk] Reyna [Rivera] was on the phone with me for 20 minutes the other day and we weren’t able to find that link at that time.”
While Rivera did track the information down, Shoemaker said he’d rather the information be more readily available to dispel misinformation.
“I want to see the rumors go away of people saying they spent Measure S on this or that. That’s not doing anything for the good of this community.”
Finance Director Moreno said he’ll compile an assets list of equipment that’s been purchased for both the police and fire departments and then update those regularly. The report would also be included with the transaction and annual reports, he said.
Interim City Manager Henry Perea said once that asset list is compiled, it will be presented during a City Council meeting.
“That would be huge in the community,” Shoemaker said.
Selma resident Colleen Nelson agreed most people in the community aren’t able to navigate the financial reports but want to know how their sales tax monies are being spent.
“Your basic person in the community isn’t going to get this. They need it in a simplified manner,” she said. “I don’t have time to sit and go through all of that and most people in town don’t.”