City officials for Oakdale have made it no secret that without the additional revenue provided from Measure O, the city would be in a great hardship operationally.
In November 2011, voters approved a half-cent sales tax measure designed to primarily solidify public safety service and staffing levels but which also could be used for other municipal government purposes.
City figures show the revenues generated from Measure O are approximately $1.5 million per year or 17 percent of the city’s total General Fund revenues. City officials have publicly stated many times that the funds received from Measure O have helped Oakdale avoid almost certain bankruptcy.
Earlier this month, Mayor Pat Paul proposed establishing a committee to explore the possibility of extending the one-half cent local sales tax measure as well as other revenue generating options. Appointed to chair the ad-hoc committee were community members Frank Clark and Mickey Peabody – both chaired an exploratory group for the measure in 2011.
Possible options for the committee to study include, but are not limited to, extending Measure O, letting it expire, or developing another mechanism to bring additional revenues to the city. According to the proposal, it will be up to the committee to determine the recommended course of action and take back to the council.
Clark stressed how important it is for the city to avoid bankruptcy.
“That’s important to me because of the stigmatization to the community,” Clark said. “That stigma lasts for a long time.”
Clark pointed to an already barebones staff having to compile information and records for creditors and the courts as well as the city having to hire attorneys and consultants to manage them through the process.
“Do we want to be a little Stockton?” Peabody added. “Businesses would be very leery to relocate here.”
Peabody said that in addition to public safety concerns, the city’s infrastructure needs to be considered with its water, sewer, and lighting needs.
The pair plan on forming a nine-person committee of “key people” and will be submitting the names to the city council at its Feb. 18 meeting. From there they will objectively examine various revenue generating possibilities and plan to report back to the council at the March 17 regular meeting.
Both Clark and Peabody said that the city is stable and in a good position with its leadership.
“For the first time in a while, we have a grip on the problem,” said Clark. “We now have direction with a qualified city manager and council members leading the way.”
“I wholeheartedly support this and look forward to working with the committee to provide them all the information they need to formulate their ideas and recommendations,” said Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer. “I am sure we will have many opportunities to discuss in the near future, but believe that this should probably happen after the council has appointed the full committee and they have had a chance to review the city’s financial situation for themselves.”
Measure O was brought into scrutiny by some who felt they were misled when public safety staffing levels weren’t maintained when the city passed its June 2013 budget that dropped police officer staffing and resulted in the laying off of two firefighters.
The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury ruled in 2013 that voters were not misled.
“It doesn’t make any difference what happened in the past,” said Clark. “It doesn’t change that over $1.5 million comes into the city treasury – or 17 percent of the budget. We’d be operating with $1.5 million less in personnel than we are now without it.”
City Councilman Farrell Jackson said the city greatly benefitted from the Measure O sales tax.
“We’d be in dire straits without it, that’s for sure, but I’ve heard from citizens that they didn’t feel the funds were spent properly toward public safety.” Jackson said. “That’s why I want it to be a specific tax with restricted funds.”
Jackson said to get “buy-in” from the community he’d like to see it pass as a two-thirds majority measure rather than a 50-plus-one as it did in November 2011.
“These are all the options we will be exploring and discussing,” said Clark. “Anybody else out there who has two-cents to give this committee are welcome to come talk to us.”
“I’d like to hear from someone who thinks it’s hurt us by having the (Measure O) tax,” said Peabody.