I’ve been covering Oakdale government and crime regularly now for nearly three years and in that time I can honestly say I’ve seen a serious concerted effort by elected officials and city staff to save the city money, making cuts where available, and directing resources for maximum efficiency.
Unfortunately, the cuts that were made have led to diminished city services in many areas including public safety.
Since 2011, I’ve covered homicides where outside agency investigators had to be called or leads went unfollowed due to a depleted police detective unit. There’s been increased gang activity and shootings that even though street units have been able to competently react to, they weren’t able to possibly prevent because of cuts to patrol shift staffing that have resulted in less visibility since those units that are on duty are taken away from general patrol duties.
In 2009 the department had 29 sworn members. Now they’re allotted a mere 20.
Fire staffing cuts have resulted in dropping below National Fire Protection Association industry standards potentially threatening resident fire insurance rates due to firefighter abilities to immediately fight a structure fire due to reduced personnel.
In 2009, the fire department had four firefighters at each station. Now there are two at each station with only one having an additional firefighter from an outside department to assist them.
In November 2011, Oakdale voters passed Measure O, a three-year, half-cent sales tax ballot initiative which has added more than $1.5 million a year to city coffers.
Without the income provided by Measure O, the city risked certain insolvency, potentially having to file bankruptcy.
A handful of acting or interim city managers were in place after Measure O’s passage until current city manager Bryan Whitemyer took over in February 2013, basically halfway through the measure’s life.
While strategic cuts still had to be made to keep the city solvent, Whitemyer has been able to show that the funds received from Measure O, over 78 percent funding public safety, went toward their intended purpose.
The City of Oakdale is now threatened again as Measure O expires.
Measure Y is on this year’s ballot as a call to keep the sales tax percentage in place.
This is not a new tax. It’s merely an extension of the existing local sales tax that residents and visitors alike have been able to pay, and in my opinion, with ease.
It’s only 50 cents for every $100 spent – and money well spent since it’s kept the city able to function over this time.
Without its passage, Oakdale will see its income reduced by more than $1.5 million annually, or approximately 17 percent of its General Fund – the budget that affects public safety, public works and the Gene Bianchi Community Center and Gladys Lemmons Senior Community Center.
The one thing that is different from Measure Y and the former Measure O is City Manager Bryan Whitemyer has a defined plan on how to use the revenue and INCREASE some of the public safety positions that were cut in previous years.
With its passage, plans call for the hiring of a police officer after its first year and both an additional police officer and firefighter the following year – Boots on the ground.
Without Measure O, Whitemyer expects the city will be forced to lay off more public safety officers severely threatening resident safety as well as closing the senior center, and the community center thereby threatening Oakdale’s quality of life.
Don’t give criminals more of a chance to get away with the degenerative acts that plague this city. Protect your safety and the safety of others in this city. I urge voters to pass Measure Y to meet important local public priorities.
Richard Paloma is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.