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Despite what some have said, guarantees are in place with Measure H to ensure that new taxes from the half-cent sales tax will be used on new personnel and equipment.

City Council candidate Steve Breckenridge, a council candidate, brought up the issue at the Oct. 22 Ceres City Council meeting, saying he didn't see anything in the ballot measure specifying how the funds would be spent.

Measure H Committee spokesperson Kim Chapman said 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.

Public Safety Director / Chief of Police Art deWerk said the actual city ordinance passed by the City Council in calling for Measure H has specific guidelines that the money will be spent on new hires and rescue equipment.

"It's explicit in saying that no revenues may be spent on administrative salaries and genreal fund expenditures."

Voters go to the polls on Tuesday 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.

Ceres Police continue to get busier as Ceres grows in population and in light of increasing gang activity. de Werk said that Ceres has grown a lot since 2000 but noted the city has not added a substantial number of new police officer and firefighter positions.

"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, calls for police service have increased from 39,443 in 2002 to 62,065 calls in 2006.

Ceres Police Division Commander Mike Borges said his department had not been able to concentrate on proactively going after gangs because of manpower shortages. He said Strawberry Fields Park has seen gang activity but officers have only been able to respond to crimes committed after the fact.

Measure H would give CPD the resources to form a street crimes unit working on gang intelligence and pro-actively pressuring them out of Ceres. It will also tackle the problem of burglaries, robberies and the takeover of parks where citizens are being harrassed and victimized.

"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. Right now we're almost purely in a reactionary mode."

Firefighters are also swamped to provide service, said Fire Division Commander Brian Weber.

"We do not have the ability to respond rapidly to multiple calls," said Weber.

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

Chapman said city officials are frustrated that while 71 percent of the general fund is spent on public safety, more revenue is needed for a safer community.

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.

Based on phone bank surveys, deWerk believes support may have increased into the low 80th percentile.

"We're thinking ahead but not in a presumptuous way," the chief said. "We think this has an excellent chance of passing."

Plans are in the works to begin hiring new personnel. If H fails, deWerk suggests some serious discussions will need to take place.

"I believe the city will have been left in a very tough spot because ... the staffing for police and fire must be addressed and that must occur at the expense of other city operations, which will not be good for the community. This community is essentially spending on the fundamentals.

"We would be fool hearty to think we could continue to do business as we are currently structured."