An extension and rate increase of Measure U2018 passed with 7,298 votes for 66.88 percent, based on preliminary results released after polls closed Tuesday night. 

With all 38 precincts reporting, there were 2,843 votes -- or 26.05 percent — opposing the measure.

“This mirrors our community survey polling results from early this year, and the campaign message resonated with our community," said Mark van de Kamp, city spokesman. "We appreciate the confirmation of our public service and will meet the challenge to maintain and enhance city services.”

First passed in 2012, Measure U added a quarter-cent sales tax to fund public safety services in the city. The measure — which provided around $4.6 million in funding last year — pays for 10 percent of the personnel in the Police Department and the staff of one of the city’s five fire stations. The measure was set to expire in 2021.

Measure U2018 — which the City Council voted to put on the ballot in July — increases the tax rate from a quarter-cent to one cent and remains in place until voters choose to end it. City staff estimate it would raise around $18 million per year for the General Fund.

City staff have said the Measure U extension and rate increase is needed to keep critical public safety services funded in the midst of large budget shortfalls, which have largely been driven by rising pension costs. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, the City Council approved a budget that includes an $8.5 million deficit in the General Fund.

The funding priorities for the 2018 version of Measure U include graffiti and vandalism prevention, gang suppression and enforcement, firefighter staffing and maintaining 911 medical response times. Additionally, the Measure U extension calls for increased spending on library services, recreation, homelessness and programs for at-risk youth.

The funding priorities for the 2018 Measure U were modified from the 2012 version in two ways. First, homelessness was added as a priority, in response to public input received from surveys conducted by the city. Second, there will be a wider variety of public safety services provided with funding, like nonsworn staff, vehicles and equipment.

The new tax rate will go into effect April 1, raising the city’s overall sales tax rate from 8 percent to 8.75 percent. 

Of the roughly $4.6 million in Measure U funding raised during 2017-18, around 91 percent went to public safety services. Around 52 percent of the raised funds went to police and 39 percent went to fire.

Part of the remaining 9 percent of Measure U money raised in the past fiscal year went to the Santa Maria Public Library, providing the funds to keep the library open an additional eight hours per week. The remaining funds went toward the Recreation and Parks Department’s graffiti removal and code compliance efforts.

City officials have said around 90 percent of the tax proceeds from the new measure will go toward public safety, though the funding breakdown between the fire and police departments may change as needs arise. The remaining 10 percent would fund youth programs and other quality-of-life services.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.