Public safety union keeps pouring money into tax measure

kvaline@modbee.comNovember 2, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
    Recent stories written by Kevin
    E-mail: kvaline@modbee.com

The money keeps pouring in for the campaign for a 1 percent sales tax increase as its supporters take to the streets and phones in an effort to persuade Modesto voters to pass it on Tuesday.

The Safer Stronger Modesto, Yes on X campaign has raised more than $180,000 after a $40,000 contribution from the Modesto Police Officers Association and a $5,000 contribution from Dallas Marsh, the wife of Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh. The contributions were made this week.

The MPOA has contributed $100,000 to the campaign, and the Modesto City FireFighters Association has contributed $53,800. Mayor Marsh has contributed $5,000.

MCFFA President Tim Tietjen said members of the two labor groups decided to fund and volunteer for the Yes on X campaign because they believe the tax is necessary to restore services and staffing lost to several years of budget cuts.

“We are involved in the campaign, the major fundraisers, because we live the system every day,” said Tietjen, a Modesto Regional Fire Authority captain. “We see the problems. We know what it’s going to take to restore staffing. There is no one better to tell the stories than the people who live (those stories) every day.”

Off-duty police officers, firefighters, their family members and other Measure X supporters will be walking neighborhoods over the weekend to talk with voters and staffing phone backs to call voters.

“The fundamental issue is whether Modesto is better off or worse off with Measure X,” said Mike Lynch, a campaign consultant for the MPOA. “We believe without Measure X, we lose a significant number of public safety officers.”

Modesto has reduced its number of police officers and firefighters by about a fifth in five years. City officials say Measure X will let the city hire 61 police officers and 15 firefighters and keep an additional nine firefighters funded through a grant that expires next year.

Measure X opponents say the city’s real issue is that it has a spending problem and has not done enough to rein in spending – especially employee costs – and live within its means. They also say Measure X would put Modesto businesses at a disadvantage. If it passes, Modesto would have a sales tax rate of 8.625 percent, the second highest in the Northern San Joaquin Valley to Lathrop’s 9 percent.

The City Council voted 7-0 in July to place Measure X on Tuesday’s ballot. If it passes, the tax is expected to generate about $26 million annually over its six-year life for public safety, roads, shoring up the city’s financial reserves and other general government purposes.

The tax proceeds would go into the city’s general fund, which makes up about a third of the city’s roughly $344 million operating budget. The operating budget’s other funds are in good shape. But the general fund – which is fed in large part by sales and property taxes – has a structural deficit of $9 million to $11 million.

City officials have said if the tax does not pass, they face cutting about $6 million from Modesto’s 2014-15 budget, which starts July 1, but that budget cuts could be made sooner.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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