Nine Selma residents have been recognized for their dedication to their city and the initiative they took to make Selma a safer place to live.
Tom Bowers, Rosemary Alaniz, Louis Franco, Lisa Franco, Pete Esraelian, Herb Wingfield, Joe Hernandez, Tim Nuanes and Dr. Stanley Y. Louie were presented with the Police Chief's Association Citizen Award during the 18th annual Fresno and Madera counties ceremony on Sept. 19.
"Throughout history, it has been our citizens coming together who make a difference," Selma Police Chief Tom Whiteside said during the ceremony. "We have a group of people here today who did just that."
The nine residents honored formed the Selma Public Safety Ad-Hoc Committee in January 2005 after concerns were being presented to the city council regarding crime around town.
A few years ago, Franco's car window was smashed in and his wallet was stolen. More than a dozen of his neighbors within two blocks had been victims to similar home and vehicle burglaries.
"I decided to go and express my concerns to City Hall," Franco said.
Then-mayor Dennis Lujan requested that city staff ask citizens to study the problems that may have been going on with police response times and public safety in general, said Louie, who later became the chairman of the ad-hoc committee.
The police and fire chiefs identified citizens in town that they felt would be able to do a good job looking into some of the safety issues and who would be able to make proper recommendations to the council. Out of the 30 people originally suggested, nine of them ended up forming the ad-hoc committee.
The group began questioning Selma's police, fire and elected officials about their future plans for keeping the community safe as its population continued to grow.
"In the course of nine months, we were able to visit both the fire station and the police department, review their budgets — both past and present, and explore the city budget along with the parks and recreation budget, public works budget, and any other option for funding new police officers and equipment for our firefighters," Louie said.
They spent more than a year, meeting monthly, learning about the police and fire facilities, calls for service, response times, budgets, sources of funding and crime trends, Whiteside said.
"The information they gathered led to a paramount finding — the need to improve these services and to fund these needs into the future," Whiteside said.
The committee didn't stop there. The members began to look at what other cities in the state had successfully done to increase funding for public safety and whether Selma could implement similar measures.
"We explored funding mechanisms, including potential property taxes and utility fees," Louie said. "But those are one-sided and would be unfair to the citizens."
The group thought that a general sales tax that would be used specifically for public safety would be beneficial and fair to everyone.
"What we're looking at is pushing a specific tax that everyone in town, including visitors, would help support," Louie said. "We boiled it down to the cost of being just a penny for every two dollars purchased. A penny isn't very much."
The city conducted two voter surveys to see if the rest of the community agreed that more safety measures were needed in Selma.
"Seventy-five percent of residents feel that it is extremely or very important to increase police patrols to protect Selma's neighborhoods, parks and areas surrounding Selma's schools and deal aggressively with gang and drug crime," Whiteside said, regarding the results of the surveys.
After hearing the survey results as well as reports from the ad-hoc committee, the city council held public hearings about the possibility of a public safety tax. In August they voted to allow the Public Safety Measure to be put on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"The culmination of (the committee's) collective grassroots efforts over the past year and beyond have been instrumental in creating what is now being called 'Measure S' for Selma's safety," Whiteside said. "Now they are at work, alongside our elected and city officials, in the campaign trenches securing endorsements, fundraising, manning phone banks — anything to do their part to ensure sensible and real planning for our emergency service needs."
The ad-hoc committee converted into the Selma Public Safety Committee with the campaign "Yes on S." They have recruited the Selma Police Officers Association and Firefighters Association to help educate the citizens in Selma.
They held their kick-off meeting on Sept. 11.
"I hoped that we could get maybe 30 people there, but we actually had to bring in more chairs. There was standing room only," Louie said.
Over the past two weeks, the group, with the help of many volunteers, has been calling Selma residents to let them know about the importance of Measure S. To date, they have made contact with over 570 voters.
"I think (the measure) will pass when the citizens in town realize that we're doing this for ourselves," Louie said. "We live here in town, many of us work here in town, and yes, we can play here in town. If we have enough police officers and firefighters, we'll feel much more protected."
Franco said that he understands people don't want to pay more taxes.
"Nobody wants to vote for a tax," he said. "I don't wan to vote for a tax. But this is something that is critical to the quality of life in Selma."
The nine creators of the committee were given a Citizen Award plaque with each of their names inscribed on it before a standing-room-only audience at Fresno City Hall.
"It was quite an honor and quite a surprise," Louie said.
The Measure S ordinance may be found on the city Web site, www.cityofselma.com.