Facing a sunset of Measure C in 2026, city officials in Merced are weighing their options to possibly extend the city’s half-cent sales tax that helps fund police, the fire department and road projects.
Mayor Matt Serratto, in a Jan. 16 column in the Sun-Star, said the city is moving forward in placing a Measure C extension or renewal on the November ballot.
He wrote that letting Measure C money expire would be “catastrophic” for city operations. “Without that money coming to the city, there won’t be enough money for cops and fires to the same extent,” Serratto told the Sun-Star.
City officials say that without locally-controlled funding for essential city services, Merced would face a $7 million annual budgetary shortfall, according to information provided by Jennifer Flachman, Merced’s public information officer.
“No decision about how to address this shortfall has been made at this time, but the city wishes to have resident input on service priorities as it plans for its fiscal future,” Flachman wrote to the Sun-Star.
Passed by Merced voters in November 2005, Measure C took effect April the following year, imposing a half-cent sales tax in the city that resulted in a little more than $7 million in revenues the first year the tax was implemented.
More than $2.7 million went toward funding the police and fire departments, as well as public works projects like road and street improvements. Nineteen police officers were hired that year because of Measure C.
Approximately $88.1 million has been generated by Measure C since it took effect in 2006, averaging between $4.5 million and $8.2 million a year.
Flachman also said 32 police and fire department jobs are currently funded by Measure C. She said the money goes towards maintaining rapid response times to emergencies and fires, keeping up neighborhood police patrols, responding to gang activity, helping homeless people find the services they need and keeping parks and public areas safe.
“From what they say, it’s about being able to have the money to keep our police and firemen,” said Jesse Ornelas, Merced City Councilor for District 1. “All we’ve done so far is hire a consultant to see if we need to.”
While Ornelas doesn’t know which stance he’ll take on a renewal or extension of Measure C yet, he’s aware of broader conversations about law enforcement and funding for local police. That could figure into his decision about whether to support the Measure C effort.
“I’m going to center the needs of the community,” Ornelas told the Sun-Star. “I envision a world in which local government is aligned with the morals and values of the community.”
The city currently has $3.5 million of Measure C money, with $3 million being generated during the 2021-22 fiscal year so far. $1 million of that money is going to public works projects this year, filling potholes, doing road repairs and paying public works employees.
There is currently no plan to “market” the renewal to voters in the city, but officials said they pride themselves on being transparent as the process moves forward.
“As part of our long-term planning, Merced is continuing its community outreach to obtain resident input on current service priorities and utilize that input to help inform our budget and fiscal planning,” Flachman said.
While it might be four more years before Measure C money runs out, some city officials may want to get the ball rolling on renewing or extending it now because some fear pushback or complications.
“There might be some opposition, perhaps, or maybe they want to anticipate any additional policy on Measure C,” said Ornelas.