By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore City Council should consider putting its own tax measure on the ballot

Twice in 2016 Kings County and its four cities banded together to pass a public safety sales tax. Twice, Measure K failed by the narrowest of margins, and because it was a special tax, it required 66.6 percent to pass.

The second time – in November – the tax measure earned 64.97 percent, but unfortunately, it fell short.

Last year’s Measure K quarter-cent sales tax would have raised $4 million annually – to be split between the cities and the county coffers. Lemoore’s share of the pot would have been about $675,000 – all for public safety. In Lemoore’s case, the money would have been used to beef up the police and fire departments.

However, while Measure K fell countywide, Lemoore voters liked it, and if it had been up to them, the new tax would have easily passed. The first time around, in the June primary, Measure K earned an impressive 72 percent of the Lemoore vote, and again in November, Lemoore’s electorate gave it a solid 68.31 percent vote.

Had the tax measure been confined to the Lemoore city limits it would have passed – both times.

Public safety issues are always forefront in the collective minds of Lemoore and Kings County residents. While Lemoore remains a relatively safe community, it faces a rising population and the need for additional public safety resources.

California City and County Sales Tax Rates

Crime rates, particularly in Lemoore, experienced a sudden hike in 2014 when all forms of crimes, from misdemeanors to calls for service, increased. The good news is that crime in Lemoore fell in 2015 and 2016. Crime stats aren’t in for 2017 yet, but they could be tempered by three murders this year – two of them gang-related. This year’s stats will include a recent gang-related shooting that wounded an early-morning bicycle rider.

Our fair town is apparently not immune to the ugliness of crime.

Complicating Lemoore’s financial outlook is its inability to attract sales tax generators like car lots and retail stores. Other communities are losing sales tax revenue too, thanks to a boom in online purchasing. While Lemoore has managed to balance its annual budget, it’s getting more difficult each year, particularly as the city is faced with daunting expenditures in water, infrastructure, and essential services.

Of course, the needs of Lemoore’s public safety departments will have to be met to keep its citizens safe. Hundreds of counties and cities in California have already approved local sales tax hikes, including Corcoran which increased its sales tax to 8.250 percent and Visalia with an 8.50 percent sales tax. The state sales tax is currently 7.25 percent.

But Lemoore residents can do something about it, and its City Council could very well give them another opportunity to improve the city’s public safety and financial outlook.

While only in the talking stages, council members brought up the issue at their Tuesday, Nov. 5 council meeting where city staff recommended that they adopt a resolution and ordinance allowing for a ballot measure on the June 2018 ballot to increase the local sales tax to one percent.

Staff suggests that if passed, the measure could increase local revenues by approximately $1.8 million annually.

Council members will also have to determine whether to adopt a general or a specific sales tax. A “general” tax allows communities some flexibility as to how they spend the money. A “specific” levy requires that funds be for a specific purpose – say, for example, public safety.

A “general” tax increase requires a simple majority vote, while a “specific” increase requires a two-thirds plus one vote.

Councilmembers could very well decide to ask Lemoore voters to approve such a measure at their first meeting on January 16, which then could be on the June 2018 ballot.

A “general” tax gives the city more flexibility. Our leaders should keep their promise to spend the proceeds where they’re needed the most: public safety. There is no guiding principle more important than providing security to a city’s residents.

They must keep in mind though that over time their city will need to spend money in other areas, and having the ability to draw on additional sales tax funding is a step in the right direction.

It’s vital that we stay ahead of the misfortunes of crime. Boosting the city’s public safety efforts would be a step in the right direction.