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Measure H plan developed
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On Nov. 6, Ceres voters passed Measure H, the half-cent public safety sales tax that provides for an increased number of firefighters and police officers serving this city. The measure passed with 75.12 percent voter approval, which, based on similar initiatives in other communities over the years, was a huge win that sets the stage for much-needed improved public safety services.

The tax funds derived from Measure H are by law to be used exclusively to hire new firefighters and police officers. The funds may not be diverted to other city operations such as parks, streets, recreation, etc., nor may they be used to supplant the portion of the city general fund budget that has traditionally been allocated to the Public Safety Department's budget.

It is clear that the voters' decision was a mandate to increase police patrols, to root out repeat offenders and other criminals and to generally do more to minimize crime's impact on the community. The vote also included money for more firefighters, since, at this time, we only have 24 of them to serve this entire city. Keep in mind that those 24 fire personnel have to cover the city 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and they have been seriously understaffed for many years. The spending plan included as part of Measure H corrects this problem and within a few years of collecting these new revenues, our goal is to have these four fire stations staffed with three firefighters each. There will also be a battalion chief (similar to a shift manager), around the clock to supervise fire scenes and other major incidents that occur. The battalion chief position is critical for keeping emergency scenes organized, effective and as safe as possible for the firefighters and citizens involved.

Also included in the Measure H spending plan was additional staffing for the Police Division to establish a street crimes unit whose aim will be to police the gangs more thoroughly, they will be able to go after the known violent criminals and repeat offenders, parolees and the others who prey on our citizens and neighborhoods everyday. As the new revenues compile, we will also be able to place more patrol officers on the streets during peak activity periods.

To be specific, the Measure H spending plan calls for the hiring of seven fire personnel and five police positions in the first twelve months. With each following year several additional public safety positions will be added, such that by the end of an [approximately] eight year period, a total of 24 new positions will have been added to this public safety department. This hiring plan is based on an estimate of sales tax revenues. The actual amount may be higher or lower, depending on the overall condition of the economy and the addition of new businesses in Ceres. If the revenues are higher, then, of course, we will hire more officers and firefighters than originally calculated.

The first-year implementation of the Measure H hiring plan will take a bit of time. First, the measure does not take effect until Jan. 1. The state of California will not start collecting the revenues until April 1, 2008, and the first check from the state will be sent to us in the first week of July. This may seem like a long time, but the recruiting, selection process and actual hiring of police and fire personnel takes several months in any event. The public will not see any real increased police presence or the three-person fire engines until late 2008. It seems like a long time off, but imagine the situation we would be in if the measure did not pass. We are already in a deficit police and fire staffing mode, and with the continued trend of increased calls for service, more crime and traffic issues, I fear we would have run into serious and perhaps irreversible community safety problems in the future.

We at the city believe that it is important to provide the public with regular updates on the progress we make in hiring the new fire and police personnel and implementing Measure H. After the first of the year the City Council will begin the process of selecting citizens to serve on the Citizens' Oversight Committee as required by Measure H. In this regard I will be writing a future article about the nature and duties of this committee.

Finally, I must tell you how much we at the city appreciate the voters' passage of Measure H. We have, for a long time, felt frustrated that we could not do more to protect and provide safety services for this community. It is "in our blood" to want to provide the best possible services and to take care of our citizens. With Measure H, we will do all that we can to meet or exceed your expectations. You have our heartfelt thanks for the trust and confidence you have placed in us. We will not let you down.