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'H' approved, recruiting begins
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Ceres voters have overwhelmingly supported Measure H in last week's election, giving the half-cent sales tax measure to bolster public safety services more than its required two-thirds majority for passage.

The latest figures showed Measure H receiving 2,217 yes votes, or 74.3 percent, and 768 no votes, or 25.7 percent. It only needed 66 percent plus one vote to pass.

The results are unofficial since absentee ballots still need to be counted. But it's doubtful those extra votes could change the outcome.

With voter approval, the sales tax in Ceres raises from 7.375 percent to 7.875 percent. The tax is expected to generate approximately $2 million to $2.5 million annually to fund up to six new police officers and six new firefighters. The tax would also buy new protective equipment for officers, implement anti-gang and anti-drug programs for youth, and buy emergency rescue equipment.

Ceres Police Chief /Director of Public Safety Art deWerk was elated over the news.

"I am very pleased with the results of the election," said deWerk. "Not only was it a win, but it was a powerful affirmation of the support the public has for our Public Safety Department. This is truly a new era for this department, and I look forward to the growth and development that is now sure to come."

The extra tax won't go into effect until April 1, 2008 with the first receipts coming in about two months later.

"This means that hiring new personnel can take place on or around June 1, 2008," said deWerk. "In the meantime, we will prepare for all aspects of the recruitment and hiring process for both fire and police personnel."

DeWerk went into election day confident of its passage. Phone bank workers reported hearing overwhelming support for the measure.

New personnel is needed due to the increased volume of calls for both police and fire services. In the past five years, calls for police service have increased from 39,443 in 2002 to 62,065 calls in 2006.

Ceres Police Division Commander Mike Borges said the passage has given police officials a reason to feel happy. He said his agency will be hiring additional officers and one charge will be to form a street crimes unit which will concentrate on proactively going after gangs and drug peddling.

"We'll have a proactive enforcement unit that's not just there on an overtime basis or whenever we can put together a Street Crimes Unit on a one-night basis," said Borges. "Right now we're almost purely in a reactionary mode."

Adding numbers of firefighters would also allow the city to work toward three-man engine companies, which would enable quicker attacks on structure fires.

City officials have wanted to hire additional officers but could not find money in the budget. Approximately 71 percent of the city's general fund is already spent on public safety.