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Palm Beach, jail sales tax, & Manteca

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POSTED February 6, 2010 2:49 a.m.
Palm Beach in Florida is the winter play land of the Eastern Seaboard’s old money.

It has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Critics over the years – who think the police presence is a bit too much – lament that the Palm Beach Police Department acts more like a private security force.

It isn’t a hit on their professionalism. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The police seem to be everywhere making it tough for criminals to operate.

Understand when you have more winter mansions for the rich than you can shake a stick at you have a high tax base.

Manteca has 98 overall employees in its police department with a city of 67,000 residents within 15.9 square miles. Palm Beach has 129 overall employees in its police department with a city of 10,548 residents year around and 30,000 “during the season” within 10.4 square miles.

What does this have to do with Manteca? Plenty when you consider we are probably going to be asked in November by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to approve a half cent sales tax to generate $40 million to staff an expanded San Joaquin County Jail.

There is little doubt the jail expansion is needed but will it do any good? The state’s strategy now to deal with budget woes is the early release of career criminals way ahead of the end date of their sentences. That means the additional county jail beds essentially will be occupied by former state prisoners, a wash if you will.

Well, we’ve got to build the jail then, right? Wrong. Those accused of repeated non-violent property crimes will still be turned lose. Instead of staying in jail a week or so, the criminals will be out in three days or less. Is that worth $40 million a year to simply shave a few days off their criminal activity?

What makes more sense is increasing police presence.

That’s why I’d vote for another half cent sales tax exclusively to hire more Manteca Police officers before I’d vote for a county jail tax.

Based on present-day revenues if the entire half cent went to hire police and not firefighters, Manteca would have 20 more officers.

There are already 10 Measure M police officers.

By the way, critics who claim it isn’t working, guess again. The tax measure is clear that the taxes collected can only go to hire more front-line positions in the two public safety departments and that can’t be done by reducing the general fund contribution to police and fire services based on the year the tax was passed. Granted, no one could have predicted the drop off in sales tax due to the foreclosure mess and the economic downturn it triggered. But Measure M is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It is better to have 57 officers instead of 47. At the same time, it is better to have 67 officers instead of 47. And if sales tax comes back up, it gets even better.

Assuming Manteca didn’t grow, it is plausible with another half cent sales tax and an improved economy Manteca could have 80 sworn police officers.

Understand I’m not advocating such a tax. I’m just saying it would make more sense from Manteca’s perspective to tax itself for even more police and not mess with the jail tax.

Keep pressure on the criminals. Make them go to places where they can operate easier. It’s a principle that has worked will for years in Ripon and has proven effective with Measure M augmentation until, of course, the down turn.

Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker is absolutely correct when he points out criminals are just like water – they take the path of least resistance.

If it is easy for criminals to operate in a community, then that is where they will ply their trade.

The logic might sound a bit warped but then again the California Legislature’s actions in the past decade or so have made it abundantly clear they’re not going to risk their political hides by reinventing and downsizing government so basic services can be funded at a reasonable level. Instead, they want to keep their beloved bureaucracy intact and expect us to willingly be taxed to the moon and back.

We need services. No doubt about it. However if the only way we stand a chance of protecting our city and it residents is by becoming Manteca-centric then we have no other choice.
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