VPD proposes Measure N amendments

City of Visalia Administration building entrance from sidewalk along E. Oak Ave.(Kenny Goodman)

Visalia City Council approves first public hearing for police requested amendments to Measure N, which would be used for two new patrol vehicles should it get officially approved

VISALIA – After asking to make an amendment to Measure N in June, Visalia’s Police Department (VPD) has once again returned to the city council hopes of obtaining additional funds to replace a police cruiser which was wrecked by a driver under the influence, as well as an advance on the 2024/2025 purchase of a patrol vehicle.

The first of two public hearings for the proposed amendment was held during the City of Visalia’s most recent Nov. 6 council meeting. Should the amendments be approved, $190,000 of the tax-raised Measure N will be allocated to the police department.

“In June of 2023, city council approved a measure amendment or Measure N amendment raising the allocated amount for Measure N vehicles to $80,000,” said VPD’s Captain Ford. “This was based on projections from city staff that would be anticipated for the future cost for Dodge Chargers.” 

Two months later, the police department was “informed that Dodge Chargers were no longer going to be in production.” Due to this set back, city staff was tasked with finding suitable replacement vehicles, which were later identified as Dodge Durango and the Ford Explorer.

Staff initially pursued obtaining the Ford Explorer, which was cheaper at the time, only to learn that a UAW strike was currently preventing Ford from opening an ordering window for the city staff to get the vehicles they were looking for.

Although initially estimated to be more expensive, staff was “happy to report” that the Durango was right in line for their predicted cost estimate of the Explorer.

Now the VPD hopes to gain access to the funds needed to buy the two new patrol cars, as well as an additional $30,000 to “make up for the shortfall for two Measure N vehicles that were previously funded for 21/22,” which they weren’t able to get due to supply shortages and cost increases.

Now the VPD hopes to gain access to the funds needed to buy the two new patrol cars, as well as an additional $30,000 to “make up for the shortfall for two Measure N vehicles that were previously funded for 21/22,” which they weren’t able to get due to supply shortages and cost increases.

“When we presented to (the) Measure N (committee), we wanted to make sure that we had a cushion to ensure that we would not have to approach (them again) in a short amount of time,” Captain Ford said. “We requested an allocation of up to $95,000 per vehicle, that’s what is causing the increase up to $190,000 (and) I’m happy to report that, as of right now, we don’t see that we’re going to need (the full amount, so) any of those excess funds would go right back into Measure N.” 

Upon opening the discussion to the council, councilmember Liz Wynn noted that in the case the city is reimbursed from the DUI’s insurance company, the funds would go back into Measure N, which would likely be a lengthy process, according to Ford.

Overall, the council was supportive of the amendment’s first read through, passing it unanimously so it can go on to the required second read through before being officially put into action. One resident however, who spoke up multiple times during the Nov. 6 meeting, felt that the Measure N committee hadn’t been thorough enough with approving the allocation of the funds.

“This whole (Measure N) process has been a mess going through, (which) I addressed (during the last meeting),” said resident Barry Kaplan, who felt that the members of the Measure N committee seemed to be “more interested in getting out there quickly than discussing the matter at hand; so that vote shouldn’t really be valid.”

Kaplan went on to express that he felt the committee and the city wasn’t being transparent with how the funds were being moved by using confusing language in their agendas that is “not simple for the public to follow” and rushing the approval process.

“If you do not (appropriate these funds) according to the law, the people (of Visalia) cannot trust city council, city staff – including the police – who work very hard to build the trust of the people,” he said. “We voted for taxing ourselves with accountability and accountability wasn’t there.”

After Kaplan’s remarks, Darlene Matta, a member of the Measure N committee, took the podium to rebuttal his claims and express her belief that the city and the Measure N committee are dedicated to using the funds correctly.

“I don’t think in any way that our committee thinks that our only task is to get out of the meeting as soon as we possibly can,” she said. “We’re an oversight committee, we are not a final decision making body, (so we) ensure that you, the council, are spending those funds as the tax measure was laid out.”

Once the public comment section was over, Councilmemebr Steve Nelson echoed Matta’s sentiments, saying that he can vouch that the committee has and continues to do exactly what they were created for.

“I know a lot of the people on that committee and I know they’re dedicated to the task that has been given to them,” he said. “They’re committed to this community and they’re committed to what measure is supposed to accomplish; I support their input and the input from the police department.”

A BIT OF BACKGROUND

As mentioned in a past article by The Sun-Gazette, Measure N is a sales tax, which passed in 2016, and allocates funds to support public safety services and infrastructure maintenance. According to Police Chief Jason Salazar at the time of publication, any time the department would like to make a change to the 10-year plan, they must go before an oversight committee to ensure the change is consistent with what voters intended when they originally passed the measure.

According to the city’s website, Measure N was passed after the City of Visalia sought to create a stable source of funding for “essential city services such as police and fire, as well as maintenance of our parks and roads.” 

The measure, which instituted a .5% (half-cent) increase to the city’s sales tax, was approved on April 1, 2017 after it received 65% of votes from the citizens who engaged in the referendum. The initial plan outlines that the funds will be used by the city to maintain 911 emergency, police patrols and fire response times, gang prevention efforts, address homelessness, and maintain local streets and infrastructure.

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