Redding Voters to Decide on Half-Cent Sales Tax to Fund Massive Public Safety Upgrades

Redding City Council. All photos by Jon Lewis.

Redding City Council. All photos by Jon Lewis.

Redding voters will be asked this fall to OK a half-cent sales tax increase to fund additional police officers and firefighters, more jail space, a mental health crisis stabilization unit and a sobering center.

The measure, if passed by a simple majority of registered voters on Nov. 8, would generate an estimated $11 million a year during its 10-year lifespan. The money would be funneled into a special account in the city’s general fund.

Voters also will be asked to approve a companion advisory measure that says money generated from the sales tax hike should be spent on bolstering Redding’s public safety and Shasta County’s jail and social support services. The advisory is non-binding.

Both measures are the result of unanimous votes on Tuesday afternoon by the Redding City Council following more than three hours of discussion, debate and public comments.

The council’s action represents a significant step forward in the implementation of a consultant’s “Blueprint for Public Safety.” Commissioned a year ago, the blueprint is a response to a growing sense of fear and frustration over crime rates, an overcrowded county jail and issues like vagrancy, vandalism and theft associated with a more visible homeless population.

The 346-page report, prepared by the Mountain View-based Matrix Consulting Group, spelled out a host of recommendations for police and fire staffing and pointed out areas where Redding and Shasta County could join forces in dealing with the homeless and those afflicted with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Redding Fire Chief Gerry Gray.

Redding Fire Chief Gerry Gray.

The recommendations ranged from Tier 0, or dealing with public safety issues with current resource levels, and moved up to Tier 5 recommendations. Each tier assumed an additional $5 million was available.

In total, the Blueprint’s recommendations—from Community Service Officers and public bathrooms in the downtown area to fully staffed fire engines and an additional 64 jail beds—would cost $20 million.

The recommendations were reviewed by a seven-member implementation team composed of City Manager Kurt Starman, Shasta County Administrative Officer Larry Lees, Police Chief Robert Paoletti, Sheriff Tom Bosenko, Fire Chief Gerry Gray, Vice-Mayor Brent Weaver and county Supervisor Leonard Moty.

Shasta County Executive Officer Larry Lees.

Shasta County Executive Officer Larry Lees.

The team pared down the recommendations to a level that would require an additional $11 million to put in place; essentially the amount of money a half-cent sales tax hike would generate. The team’s recommendations were presented to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning and then to the City Council in the afternoon.

“This is a great example of the city and county getting together to discuss the complex criminal justice system,” Weaver said, echoing the sentiments of several speakers who noted that criminals pay little heed to city and county boundaries and service areas.

Without adequate county jail space, Weaver said, Redding police lack the “stick” needed to hold accountable the criminals they arrest. Additionally, a sobering center and a mental health crisis stabilization unit will help free up jail cells and take the pressure off of hospital emergency rooms.

Larry Lees, Shasta County Executive Officer, addresses the council.

Larry Lees, Shasta County Executive Officer, addresses the council.

Sheriff Bosenko said the 64-bed Adult Rehabilitation Center on Breslauer Lane is expected to open in 2018 or 2019, after which the basement of the downtown jail can be converted to hold an another 64 beds. More beds, if needed in the future, can be added in the new courthouse scheduled to open in 2020 at Oregon and Yuba streets.

Noting that his department took up “a big bulk” of the Blueprint, Paoletti outlined how an additional 13 community support officers would improve service by assisting with ongoing community cleanup and Neighborhood Watch programs and freeing up sworn officers “to chase the bad guys.”

The implementation team also recommended retaining four officers who were previously funded by a grant and hiring an additional four officers.

Fire Chief Gray said the team endorsed staffing levels sufficient enough to assign three firefighters per engine, which is the industry standard. To accomplish that, the city needs to retain the nine firefighters currently being paid out of a reserve fund (a move that allowed Station No. 2 to reopen) and hire nine additional firefighters.

Councilwoman Kristen Schreder expressed concern that the Blueprint offers little in the way of help for Redding’s growing homeless population, an area she deemed “a vital part of public safety.” She also said the Blueprint discussion also felt rushed and could benefit from a two-week delay to allow for more community input.

Councilwoman Francie Sullivan said she empathized with her colleague—she said she’d like to see some money freed up to build an additional nine Little League baseball fields—but noted that people are ready to fight for the half-cent tax hike and make Redding “the wonderful place” it could be.

“Let’s give voters the opportunity to give officers the resources they need,” said Steve Davidson, a retired Redding police captain. Business owner Matt Morgan said he supports the measure, telling the council that residents are already paying the equivalent of a sales tax because of property crimes and vandalism.

Rocky Slaughter, right, introduces a campaign slogan for the tax measure.

Rocky Slaughter, right, introduces a campaign slogan for the tax measure.

Rocky Slaughter, 28, unveiled a “Safe Streets Now” logo and matching campaign. He said funding the Blueprint recommendations will send a statement to young professionals that Redding is a community worth investing in.

“People want an officer to show up when you call 911 and they want a paramedic to show up when their dad is having a heart attack,” said Jason Schroeder, a Neighborhood Watch organizer who spoke in support of the tax hike.

City Manager Kurt Starman.

City Manager Kurt Starman.

If passed by voters, the tax hike would amount to an additional 50 cents on a $100 purchase, Starman said. Shasta County’s tax rate is currently 7.5 percent, the lowest amount possible in California. Some 6.5 percent of sales tax goes to the state; the city gets the remaining 1 percent.

If the measure is successful, the tax would become effective no sooner than April 1, 2017. As of 2014, there were 116 cities in California with similar local sales tax measures in effect, Starman said.

Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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