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Measure H panel in fundraising mode
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The campaign committee which is promoting a half-cent sales tax to hire more police officers and firefighters is moving into a campaign funding mode.

On Thursday the Measure H campaign fund will be the beneficiary of a "celebrity" waiters event at La Cascada Restaurant, 2704 Mitchell Road, Ceres. Local police officers and firefighters will be waiting on tables from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with tips going to the campaign effort. A percentage of the sales are being donated to the cause by the owners of La Cascada.

The campaign committee is attempting to build a campaign fund to pay for direct campaign mailers and pay for other outreach efforts. Committee spokesperson Kim Chapman said the committee would like to raise $45,000.

A committee was needed, she said, because the role of city officials legally must be very limited. Even though the city will benefit from an infusion of cash if Measure H passes, the city is limited to only public education efforts and cannot engage in campaigning.

"Now that it's in the campaign mode the city must cut back," said Chapman.

Approximately 10 people are on the Measure H committee. They include campaign chairman Brenda Scudder Herbert, fundraising chairmen Ken Lane and Eric Ingwerson, treasurer Charlie Fernandes and Kathy Foster, Fran Welsh, Kathy Stevenson, Danny Vierra, Rich Scola and Harry Herbert.

Chapman said that the committee is also receiving help from public safety personnel when they're off duty, and their wives.

Among the committee's activities is in a phone bank operation.

"Right now we're in the educational phase, looking for yes votes and educating the community on what Measure H is," said Chapman.

Voters go to the polls on Nov. 6 to decide whether or not to raise the sales tax paid in Ceres store from 7.375 percent to 7.875 percent. The tax is expected to generate approximately $2 million to $2.5 million annually.

A two-thirds majority is needed for its passage since the council has determined the tax is a "special tax," designated for a specific expenditure. If approved, Measure H could 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 buying emergency rescue equipment.

A provision will be made for oversight to ensure that the special tax fund would be allocated to new public safety personnel.

Public Safety Director / Chief of Police Art de Werk said that Ceres has grown a lot since 2000 but has not added a substantial number of new employees.

"In the past five years, police calls for service have increased by almost 20,000 calls," said de Werk. "We need more officers to handle our public safety needs and meet increasing demands in our community."

In the past five years alone, calls for police service have increase by over 20,000 calls, from 39,443 in 2002 to 62,065 calls in 2006.

Currently Ceres has 46 officers and four reserves for a population of close to 40,000. Adding just one officer costs the taxpayers approximately $82,000 a year. DeWerk said Ceres probably only currently has 0.90 officers per thousand residents. The FBI national standard calls for 1.5 officers per thousand.

Numbers of firefighters are also thin, he said. Shifts are being covered through overtime, not ideal in terms of budget expenditures.

Adding numbers would also allow the city to work toward three-man engine companies. Chapman said a three-man company would enable quicker attacks on structure fires.

Chapman served on a special citizens' ad hoc committee to look at different ways to bolster city coffers to hire additional public safety department personnel. They looked at a property tax increase but decided that a half-cent sales tax would be a more equitable solution. They also recommended a two-thirds measure.

"It has to be put into a separate trust fund and has an oversight committee and annual auditing and it will directly impact only public safety," said Chapman. "I felt strongly that this was a creative way to put public safety personnel on the streets immediately."

Chapman, the widow of the late Police Division Commander John Chapman, said the city has not been able to hire more staff even though 71 percent of the general fund is spent on police and fire. She is also concerned about police being to stay atop of the growing gang problem.

"You don't want to scare people but a lot of people see what's going on," she said. "When you ask most people how many officers are on the street at any given time, the average number is 15 or 16. But when you tell them at most there are six, you have to give them a minute to absorb it because people are just stunned.

"If you have a major incident, it takes up everybody. Our police are in a reactive mode now. That's the problem. If you ride with them you see they bounce from call to call to call. That's the help of this measure is to help, from a police side, to be able to go back into community policing."

Chapman noted that the sales tax would also be paid by those living outside of Ceres every time they make a purchase at a Ceres store. Those same people enjoy services if they have a problem while here, she noted.

She also said the sales tax has less impact on the poor and elderly. "We're not taxes on groceries or prescriptions. That doesn't impact the elderly."

A survey of 350 registered voters in Ceres was taken by a group commissioned by the Lew Edwards Group, consultants hired by the city to study the issue. The survey showed that overall support for the tax increased from 54 percent in December to 77 percent in June.

The committee maintains a website for Measure H, found at or