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'H' falls short in revenue
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Ceres' special half-cent sales tax isn't generating the kinds of revenues predicted when voters approved it in late 2007. But Measure H has not disappointed city leaders in terms of what it has meant to expand police and fire suppression services.

Since enactment, extra sales tax revenues have allowed the city to add 14 new public safety employees, a drug-sniffing canine and new equipment.

In discussing where Measure H revenues may be put to use in the 2012-13 fiscal year, the City Council is talking about adding three firefighter positions at a cost of $335,644. Another $2,087,864 will be spent on personnel hired in previous years from Measure H revenues.

Police Chief/Acting City Manager Art deWerk said revenues have fallen about a $1 million short of predicted because of the slumped economy has affected sales figures.

"The original estimates for Measure H revenues made in 2006 are not matching with the actual revenues being received," wrote deWerk in a staff report to the council. "The amounts are nearly $1 million less each year. Nevertheless, revenues are more than adequate to cover the costs of positions already filled, leaving an ongoing balance of about $1 million in case there is a catastrophic sales tax revenue shortfall in the future."

During the 2008-09 fiscal year, the city expected to receive $2.78 million but took in $2.13 million. In the second year of receipts, an expected $2.86 million fell short with $1.88 million. The last fiscal year cycle (2010-11) saw the projections fall flat with $2.1 received compared to a projected $3 million.

Measure H has helped police keep a lid on crime in Ceres and improve fire services by adding three-man engine companies, city officials said. Adding fire personnel has meant better response, quicker tackling of fires and being able to respond to incidences occurring at the same time.

Prior to Ceres voters enacting the tax, said Deputy Chief Mike Borges, manpower shortages prevented the department proactively going after gangs. The addition of a Street Crimes Unit allows police to work on gang intelligence and proactive enforcement. The unit also tackles burglaries, robberies and the unlawful activities in city parks.

"If we were to lose the funding of Measure H, it would drastically impact our ability to deal with the gang and drug problem," said Borges. "The only reason we are able to keep up with status quo is because of Measure H. Without it we would be suffering layoffs like the Sheriff's Department and other police agencies."

Since passage, Measure H funds have paid for five police officers. The spending plan calls for additional hirings in years 1-8 of the 10-year tax.

Last year the council opted against hiring a lieutenant for a crimes analyst and added a high tech crimes detective. Before the city only had "hit and miss" personnel to delve into computer and technology related crimes and other crimes.

"Almost every case we get involved in involves high tech issues, like iPhones."

A citizens committee helps the city oversee how Measure H funds are spent. The tax revenue from H - the Ceres Police, Fire, 9-1-1 Emergency Response Local Control Measure - must be put into a separate trust fund to be reviewed annually by an oversight committee. An annual audit is also required.

The measure was crafted to explicitly rule out revenues being spent on administrative salaries and general fund expenditures.