Santa Paula’s Measure T half-cent sales tax initiative won by an overwhelming majority, 58 percent to 42 percent, during the November 2016 general election. The promise of Measure T was to raise $2.1 million annually to improve police and fire services, and devote the rest to street repair and other city services. Included in the language was the caveat, “The City, however, would not be legally bound in any way to use the tax monies for any special purpose or for any particular facilities or programs.” Over the last several months, that warning has become especially poignant as the city prepares to dole out more money for fire and city staff pay with no apparent discussion on how Measure T services will directly improve the lives of Santa Paula residents.
There has been much talk about the extra costs of switching Santa Paula city fire to county fire, with consideration of instead increasing city firefighter pay to 90 percent of county’s in order to retain the city’s own fire department. Santa Paula City Council has continued to push forward with disbanding the department for county services; this move would include transferring city firefighters to county, given that they meet county standards. The projected cost of the switch: $6 million more total, or roughly more $462,000 annually, from 2018 to 2031, than if the city had just stuck with the status quo.
In the Nov. 5 story by the VCStar, “Behind closed doors, cities, unions strike potentially expensive deals,” it was reported that a new law further protects disclosure of contract negotiations between public entities and their employees via a public record exemption. At the Oct. 16 City Council meeting, Santa Paula Mayor Jenny Crosswhite pointed out that proposed staff raises, vacation buyback, bilingual pay and tuition reimbursement would cost the city $2.2 million annually by year three of the gradual increases and that these new costs were not in the staff report. This, plus the switch to county fire, would essentially make the Measure T sales tax a zero-sum game, forcing residents to pay more for everything, from retail to services.
When it comes to moving up in life, whether it be professionally or personally, it might seem that small-town living could be equated to a quiet, simpler, lower-cost lifestyle. With these seemingly sudden adjustments for a better life for Santa Paula city workers but not clear benefits for the residents themselves, especially now that Measure T is costing every resident more, we are concerned about who is running the ship in Santa Paula. One would think the City Council might be especially cautious about costing residents more than the city can truly afford as its reserves continue to dwindle, down from $2 million two years ago to $676,000 currently. Something seems awry in Santa Paula. We hope local residents will start holding elected officials accountable before Santa Paula can’t get out of what seems to be an imminently precarious predicament.