Monday marked the start of the political campaign season in Ceres.
Two seats on the Ceres City Council and the office of mayor are up for grabs this Nov. 3.
But in case you are thinking of running for any of the seats, expect to face the incumbent. Interim City Clerk Lori Frontella confirmed that all three incumbents have picked up nomination papers as of yesterday. Chris Vierra is expected to run for re-election this year, as are incumbent Councilmembers Mike Kline and Bret Durossette. Durossette also has the appointed title of vice mayor.
Council seats and the mayor's term are for four years. Although members typically attend at least two meetings each month, they also are appointed to represent the city of Ceres on a number of committees to represent the city. Councilmembers also routinely are in the public eye and represent the city at a variety of community functions.
The candidate nomination filing period, or nomination period ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 7. The deadline will be extended to Aug. 12 for offices where the incumbent has not filed. Candidates must be a registered voter residing anywhere within the Ceres city limits. Sample ballots will be mailed to registered voters Sept. 24 to Oct. 13. Regular vote by mail ballots will be sent Oct. 5-27, which is also the processing period. Those who plan to vote in the Nov. 3 election but yet are not registered to vote have until Oct. 19 to register.
Elected members will take office on Dec. 4.
At the Nov. 4 polls, Ceres voters will be asked whether or not the city should elect councilmembers within districts instead of at-large. Officials say that even if the voters reject the measure, the city may be forced to make the switch to avoid a costly voters' rights lawsuit. Cities and school districts in the state have been forced to abandon at-large elections by Hispanic groups who assert that they violate the 2002 California Voters Rights Act. Certain Latino groups believe that districts make it easier for minorities to be elected to local office, a claim that has proven questionable.
At least one of the proposed council districts has been carved to create a majority of registered Latino voters. That seat is now occupied by Councilmember Linda Ryno, who has protested the grouping of her home north of Ceres High School with neighborhoods west of Highway 99. Kline also opposes the way the districts have been drawn, saying his home in central Ceres has been corralled with an area of southwest Ceres.
The soonest council district elections would take place would be in 2017 when the council terms of Ryno and Ken Lane are up for grabs. The first full district election would take place in 2019.
The office of mayor will continue to be elected at-large.
The council terms of Ryno and Ken Lane ends in 2017.
Three seats are open on the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees. As of Monday, only Faye Lane in Trustee Area 4 had filed nomination papers with the county elections division. The seat for Trustee Area 1 is open as is Trustee Area 7. Trustees Jim Kinard and Teresa Guerrero will have to decide if they will run again.
Also in November, Ceres voters will be asked for permission to increase the current Transient and Occupancy Tax (TOT) rate of five percent to 10 percent. Because the city is not specifying a certain use for the new taxes - they would go into the general fund - the measure would pass with a simple majority vote.
The last time voters weighed in on the issue was in 2002 when they rejected a proposed increase of the TOT to 8 percent by a margin of 45 percent to 55 percent.
Most cities in California have hotel tax rates of between 7 and 10 percent tax, with the exception of Anaheim which capitalizes on Disneyland visits with a 15 percent rate and Mammoth Lakes which charges 12 percent. Modesto and Turlock charges a TOT rate of nine percent.
The Ceres TOT - which was established in 1964 and last changed in 1971 - generates about $70,000 annually for the city with the number peaking to $91,000 in the 2005-06 fiscal year before the economic downturn put a serious dent in travel and tourism. City Manager Toby Wells said a five percent increase would bring in an extra $70,000.
Keyes voters will be electing three school board members in areas 1,4 and 5. They will also be electing two members of the Keyes Community Services District board and four members of the Keyes Municipal Advisory Council (MAC).
Monterey Park Tract outside of Ceres will be electing two members of the Community Services District.
Voters in the Ceres Fire Protection District outside the Ceres city limits will be electing two board members.
Hughson Fire Protection District will be electing three board members.
Voters in the rural Westport Fire Protection District will be electing three board members.