Monterey County

Watsonville and Salinas Pursue Public Safety Tax

Community driven groups lead the way toward better services

Watsonville Public Safety Tax

SALINAS, Calif. - Two Central Coast police departments are struggling to make ends meet.  Now citizens in both cities are becoming the backbone in an effort to find more money to cut down on crime.  We're taking at look at plans for a public safety tax in Salinas and Watsonville.  We found out why Watsonville may already be ahead of the game.

A Watsonville oversight committee is planning to have a public safety tax measure on the ballot in June.  It's counterpart in Salinas said it won't be possible before the November ballot.  For now it seems support from city leaders is giving Watsonville the push it needs.

Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano said Watsonville and Salinas have a lot in common -- a lack of money and poor response times.  Both police departments are the two agencies in our area with the lowest officer to citizen ratio.  That's why oversight committee chairperson Dee Dee Vargas said Watsonville's mayor asked a group of community leaders to come up with a plan to fix the problem.

"We've actually had a lot of cooperation from the city too.  They've sat at the table with us," said Vargas.

Vargas said the oversight committee is prepared to put a special half cent sales tax on the ballot in June.

"Make sure that it would be what the public would want it to be and that it would go solely for police and fire specifically," Vargas said. 

The Salinas Committee for Public Safety said it's trying to do the same thing, except it's looking at a one cent sales tax.  Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin has presented his department's lack of resources several times to city leaders.  Amit Pandya said the committee is trying to see the effort through.

"We have researched the ideas and we have a measure that will make a solid impact against crime in Salinas," said Salinas Committee for Public Safety 2014 chairperson Amit Pandya.

But it's not been easy.  Salinas city leaders have discussed the idea of creating a general fund tax, which Pandya said could result in a re-direction of funds to places other than public safety.

"We have made overtures to the City Council for us to sit down and explore the options together because the winner at the end of that conversation would be the people of Salinas," Pandya said.

The common denominator for the two cities:  a desire to improve its reputation.

"To get us to par with what proper services we should have to the amount of the population that we've got which then should bring in more business," Vargas said.

The city of Watsonville hired a company to do a public poll on the half cent sales tax.  Those results will be presented to the city on Tuesday night.

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