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Measure M pays for 11 cops
It may also fund next police officer hirings
Measure M public safety tax has allowed Manteca to hire 12 more firefighters and 11 more police officers than the current general fund will support. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Is Manteca in a position to hire up to four police officers in the next two years thanks to Measure M sales tax as well as possibly save three firefighting jobs?

 Those are among possible questions being explored at City Hall in an attempt to keep the ranks of the police and fire departments as strong as possible while meeting the legal requirements of Measure M, the half cent public safety sales tax adopted by municipal voters in 2006.

A report from the Public Safety Sales Tax Oversight Committee the council will receive Tuesday night states that “delays in the construction of fire station 4 and current economic conditions, the hiring of the remaining three fire positions and three police positions slated for fiscal year 2009/10 have been postponed.”

So far, Measure M has allowed the city to hire 11 police officers and 12 firefighters they would not otherwise have been able to if they relied strictly on general fund money.

City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted the model adopted at the time of the sales tax vote projected sales tax increases every year instead of the two years of  straight decline in overall retrial sales. Manteca, though, did have a bright spot that no other city in the Northern San Joaquin Valley had when third quarter receipts were up 7 percent compared to the same period in 2008-09. The California State Board of Equalization reported that figure along with data that shows taxable retail sales dropped at the same time 9.8 percent in Tracy, 23.5 percent in Stockton and 14.8 percent in California. Much of Manteca’s ability to counter the drop in big ticket auto sales was the opening of Bass Pro Shops and Costco. Fourth quarter taxable retail sales figures have not yet been released by the state.

A financial report notes that the sales tax receipts through June 30, 2009 were 89 percent of projections with a surplus of $4.3 million which was 2.3 percent less than the $4.4 million projected.

The city, wanting to make sure they’d never have to lay off a Measure M hire, waited almost a full year before bringing up the Measure M staffing to its current level so there would be a reserve to cover shortfalls.

Sales tax receipts continued to decline in subsequent quarters and then hit an uptick late last year. At any rate, the decision to delay completing the projected staffing of 15 police officers and 15 firefighters for a year means the city should be in position sometime in the next 24 months to hire personnel with a fair amount of confidence given the cushion they are helping build for an additional year. It may not be all of the remaining personnel as outlined in the original Measure M plan, though, as sales tax revenue may not be robust enough. The danger in hiring without an adequate reserve would subject the newest hires possibly having to be let go after the city goes through the costly and time consuming hiring and training process if revenues plummeted again.

That leaves the door open for the possible hiring of up to four police officers in the coming fiscal years using Measure M funds. Major deficits - barring an unexpected huge emergency expenditure or further big dips in revenue after June 30, 2011 - could go away within two years. Even so, the general fund probably won’t be strong enough to add officers. Even if general fund revenue increases by July 1, 2011, the clock will be close to running out of the federal stimulus funds used to retain four police officers. The first priority of increased revenue to the general fund would be to retain those positions due to language that the city agreed to when they accept the federal help to cover the benefits and salary of four officers for three years. Measure M means the city will have a good chance of hiring at least one if not more police officers by mid to late 2011.

At the same time, city leaders are exploring other options.

Pinkerton, when queried, said one of them was not looking to see whether it would be legal to shift three firefighting positions for a period of time to Measure M funding if pressure increases on the general fund.

Pinkerton emphasized that “we haven’t looked at that pey” but added the city “will explore all possible avenues” to find ways to maintain and/or increase public safety.

Three firefighters represent roughly $350,000 in salary and benefits.

Pinkerton noted Manteca “is fortunate to have Measure M” pointing out that without it there would be no funding for 11 police officers and 12 firefighters.

The city manager said staff has made an effort to be 100 percent transparent with the tax oversight committee. Any discussions involving how Measure M funding is used will involve the citizens’ panel.