By Nancy Vigran
Reporter for the Sun-Gazette
PORTERVILLE– Porterville voters will have to decide whether they are willing to pay additional sales taxes in order to improve their roads and protect their streets. Measure I, on the November 6 ballot, calls for a 1% sales tax increase that will do exactly those things.
Porterville City council voted 4-1 earlier this year to put the general sales tax initiative on the ballot. It would earn, according to measure information, approximately $6 million per year for the city. The need stems from population growth, poor street rankings, the number of 911 emergency calls for medical assistance and the number of gang members living or frequenting the city.
Porterville’s current sales tax is 8.25%. If approved it would increase to 9.25%, making it the highest tax rate in Tulare County. The city is not alone, however, in the past two years, Lindsay, Woodlake, and Farmersville residents have all voted up their sales taxes. And, in 2016, Visalians did, too.
Part of the problem is a lack of support from the state, according to Porterville City staff. In the reference documentation on the City’s website, state politicians have taken $10.5 million away from Porterville over the last five years. In further explanation by City Manager John Lollis, California has eliminated redevelopment funding to all cities. In Porterville that is a loss of $2 million per year.
The state also eliminated resource officer funding at approximately $100,000 per year. This officer was intended to monitor early release parolees beyond a normal parole officer, as applied by AB109. If cities, or the county, want to continue this enforcement, they now must absorb the cost.
Some 60% of 911 calls for the Porterville Fired Department require medical assistance. Last year of the 5,050 total 911 calls, 3,300 were for fire and EMTs. The department strives for a response time of no longer than five minutes, and until recently has managed to meet that goal 95% of the time. However, according to Lollis, more than five percent of the responses are now taking 30 to 60 seconds longer.
With regard to gangs and gang violence, Porterville had reached a peak in 2006-2007, designated the “Year of the Homicide,” in which the city had nine homicides, Lollis said. So far, in 2018, there have been two. The city is far from where it was 12 years ago, but it doesn’t want to slip back either, Lollis added.
“You want your officers involved in crime prevention versus crime response,” he said. “Which is where we are right now and are wanting to stay. In 2006, the city was in crisis, we’re not wanting to be back in crisis.”
The “Year of the Homicide” led to the passage of Measure H, a ½ cent sales tax designated for the city, and the only part of the current sales tax Porterville, itself, receives. It is a special tax, specifically earmarked for public safety. With an approximate 15% increase in the general population, and the number of gang members and affiliates living and frequenting the area, additional funds are needed, Lollis said.
Porterville’s approximately 130 miles of streets need work including the residential neighborhoods. The city needs more funds to address the issue, Lollis said. Sixty percent of Porterville streets are rated poor to very poor by independent paving management engineers. Repairs and repaving need to be taken care of.
Other issues Measure I could address include school safety, homelessness, and after-school and library programs