Seaside Approves Tax
Measure R will pump nearly $6 million into public safety budgets.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Steve Cercone embodies the awkward relationship some city leaders have with the state law prohibiting them from campaigning on the job. Knowing that the election results will determine his department’s future, on Tuesday night the Seaside police chief says he’ll stick to the safe territory of education: just the facts on what will happen if the city’s sales tax, Measure R, fails (bad stuff), and if it passes (good stuff).
A sticker on the lapel of Cercone’s blazer announces, “I Voted in Monterey County.” But as a photographer sets up his camera, the chief peels it off. “I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m pushing for Measure R when I’m…”
As if to keep the rest unspoken, he tilts his head, squinches one eye and makes a clicking sound.
Measure R would increase the sales tax in Seaside from 7.25 percent on the dollar to 8.25 percent. If it passes, Cercone says, he plans to hire at least 13 new sworn officers over the next three years, boosting the 47-officer department to 60. That would bring Seaside’s police force in line with Monterey’s, which he says is the minimum needed to patrol the city’s growing core plus the new developments popping up on the former Fort Ord.
And if it fails? “It’s a good thing the camera left, because I’d just put my shoulders down and sulk.” Cercone says he’d pull the only community liaison officer, two school officers, and the narcotics division’s six detectives away from their regular duties to patrol the expanding city. “And we’d still be far short of Monterey,” he says.
The state policing average is 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents, according to state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. Seaside has 1.3 officers per 1,000, a number Cercone relates to an increase in street muggings over the past five years. Although the city isn’t required to achieve the state average, “There is litigation potential for not having adequate staffing,” he warns.
As long as the city is growing, the police department inevitably will do the same, even without Measure R. New developments bring more businesses and properties to Seaside, feeding the general fund and giving the police department more money to work with. But Cercone says it’s unsafe to wait. “We have to be ready now, rather than five to 10 years from now,” he says. “If we can’t make the developments safe, they will be a failure.”
Measure R is projected to swell the police department’s budget by almost $3 million over three years and inject a similar amount into the fire department, funding 12 new fire employees and a new station on Fort Ord. Public safety – which already receives about 65 percent of the city’s general fund budget – would get 82 percent of the new revenue. Another $1.2 million will be split among recreation, senior services and resource management, including parks and youth programs.
On the wall opposite the chief’s desk, the TV is turned to the news. The anchors prattle to fill in air time between state-by-state presidential primary updates, but still no word on Measure R. Despite the suspense, Cercone is relaxed. A community poll had shown Seaside residents to be strongly in favor of the sales tax increase, and he’s got a gut feeling.
“It’s gonna pass,” he says with a knock on his wooden desk.
By the morning it had, with a solid 59 percent of the vote, giving Seaside’s police and fire departments the means to grow with the city.