MODESTO — UPDATE: With 100 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, Measure X was failing by 294 votes. Modestos Measure X a 1 percent sales tax increase to restore city services was heading toward a narrow defeat late Tuesday night, with 49.2 percent of voters supporting it and 50.8 percent opposing it.
Mayor Garrad Marsh, a strong supporter of the measure, said the election was close and that he did not expect more definitive results until Friday as the county election office continues to work on its tally of Tuesdays races.
I think its going to be pretty damn close, he said. It looks like it will be too close too call.
Measure X requires a simple majority to pass.
After Tuesday night, there could be 5,000 to 10,000 ballots throughout the county that still need to be counted.
Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan provided that estimate in a letter she sent to candidates. She added that it can take days or even weeks to determine the winner in close races because of the requirements for a final tally.
Stanislaus Taxpayers Association President Dave Thomas and his association did not support the measure. He said the city rushed forward to put a badly planned and presented tax on the ballot and spent money on a consultant to gauge support of the tax. City officials have said they hired the consultant at a cost not to exceed $35,500.
Modestos police and fire unions provided most of the money in the effort to pass Measure X. The Safer Stronger Modesto, Yes on X campaign raised more than $180,000, with $100,000 of that coming from the Modesto Police Officers Association and $53,800 from the Modesto City FireFighters Association.
Thomas said if Measure X fails, Modesto will cut essential services while failing to rein in employee compensation costs. But if it passes, he said he fears the city will waste the money. My basic feeling is that no one wins, Thomas said.
City officials have said Measure X could bring in roughly $26 million annually or about $156 million over its six-year life. Because its a general tax, Measure X can be used for any general government purpose.
But the City Council which voted 7-0 in July to place the measure on the ballot passed a resolution outlining how it intends to spend the money: half to hire more police officers, firefighters and other public-service needs, a quarter for roads, a tenth to replenish the citys reserves, and the rest for parks and recreation, economic development and other purposes.
Measure X would raise Modestos sales tax rate from 7.625 percent to 8.625 percent.
The tax would go into the citys general fund, which makes up about a third of the citys $344 million operating budget. Most of the general fund is spent on public safety. Unlike the operating budgets other funds, general fund revenues nose-dived in the recession, losing about $20 million since 2008.
Modesto reduced its number of police officers and firefighters by about a fifth, reduced park maintenance, borrowed from other city accounts and made other cuts to deal with the revenue decline. But city officials say the general fund still has a deficit of $9 million to $11 million.
If the measure fails, city officials have said Modesto faces more budget cuts and further reductions in staffing and services.
For me as mayor, Marsh said, its a question of whether we move the city forward and have a better city or live within our budget and (continue) to cut police and cut all of the services we do. ... Its a quality-of-life issue. We can balance our budget, but I dont think people will like what the results are.s
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.