HEMET: Public safety tax to go back before voters

HEMET: Public safety tax to go back before voters

BY CRAIG SHULTZ / STAFF WRITER

Hemet voters will have another opportunity to decide if they want to pay more sales tax to increase public safety.

The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night, July 26, to place a general tax on the ballot that would increase sales tax by 1 percent to pay for more police and fire services. Shellie Milne voted against the measure.

A similar measure was rejected by voters last month.

At the same time, council members decided not to also put an advisory measure on the ballot, which would have asked voters to approve a non-binding promise that the money would only go to public safety.

They pulled the proposal after receiving a letter from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association questioning the measure, stating turning the failed special tax into a general tax with earmarked spending is against the spirit of the law.

“You’re just going to have to trust us,” Mayor Bonnie Wright said. “And if we don’t do our job, get rid of us.”

The meeting got off to a rousing start as Police Chief Dave Brown  spoke about the recent spate of crime in the city.

Brown showed a video clip from an incident early Tuesday where officers were met by a large, hostile crowd responding to a call where a woman was shot.

“That was appalling,” an emotional Brown said. “That is happening every day on the streets of this city.”

Brown listed a litany of recent calls, some of which where suspects became violent.

“Hemet police officers are being attacked and assaulted every day,” Brown said, adding 20 percent of the force is off work because of injuries.

Brown got a standing ovation from the crowd of about 100 people on the top floor of the Hemet Public Library.

Twenty-two people spoke in favor of the measure and five were against.

The main proponent against the measure was Eric Buskirk, owner of The Valley Chronicle newspaper. Measure E backers blame their loss on his aggressive stand against the measure.

The new measure reads much like the rejected Measure E. It would be a 1 percent sales tax increase, to 9 percent, for 10 years, with annual audits.

The tax is estimated to raise $10 million per year to pay for personnel and boost programs in the police and fire departments.

It will be presented as a general tax, needing just a simple majority to pass, unlike the two-thirds majority required under Measure E.

As a general tax, proceeds cannot be earmarked toward any specific purpose, even if the council vows that the money will be used only for public safety.

Hemet is one of a handful of cities considering asking voters to approve a sales tax increase. In fact, a decision by the Temecula City Council to put a 1 percent increase before its voter, which came during the Hemet meeting, spurred a lot of talk.

Hemet resident Nicole Tamez said many Hemet residents shop or eat in Temecula, where they could end up paying more sales tax with no benefits.

“They are going to get our 1 percent,” she said. “They are going to get more cops.”

Riverside and Menifee are among other area cities also considering a sales tax increase.

“You’re going to pay it one way or another,” Councilwoman Linda Krupa said. “The question is, do you want to protect your city, do you want to feel safe?”

Council members mentioned the letter from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in doing away with the advisory measure.

“If the Hemet City Council approves the general tax and its advisory measures, it would be doing Hemet’s taxpayers a great disservice,” stated the letter over the signature of Timothy A. Bittle, director of legal affairs.

He wrote that not only would it be circumventing the taxpayers’ constitutional protections, but the city would be vulnerable to a lawsuit under Prop. 218, which contains language to bar such companion measures.

Council members said they did not want the measure to cause costly litigation.

 

 

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