PINOLE -- The City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to ask voters in November to approve a half-cent sales tax that could help pay for police, fire and safety officers.
If approved by a majority voters, the money will come in handy because the council on Tuesday also approved a long-awaited agreement with the Pinole Police Employees Association that will cost Pinole nearly $166,000 during fiscal year 2014-15.
The agreement with police, which expired in 2011, was renewed and updated after nearly two years of discussion, negotiation and mediation. During the period of the agreement from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2017, the city will pay increased contributions to the police employees' health and dental plans, increased uniform allowances and lump sum payments of 2.5 percent of employees' base salary to employees each year of the agreement. The changes will cost Pinole $165,521 in fiscal year 2014-15, then annual costs will decrease to $120,361 for 2015-16 and $91,243 for 2016-17.
The council unanimously approved the resolution placing the sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot, which would raise the total sales tax rate in the city to 9.5 percent.
It agreed that the $1.6 million to $1.8 million that the tax could generate each year could help cover the costs of the police agreement as well as fund the salaries of several police officers and firefighters that could be laid off because federal Department of Justice grants that currently pay their salaries will end soon.
Grants currently cover $223,214 for two police officers and $125,000 for a battalion fire chief.
The council also held a budget discussion to review revenues and expenditures in advance of its final budget public hearing and approval scheduled for June 17. Although revenues, including property and sales taxes, are steadily recovering from the 2008 recession, additional liabilities such as expiring grants more than offset the revenue gains.
During the budget discussion, the council discussed other ways of generating income, including raising city licensing fees. But City Manager Belinda Espinosa mentioned that the sales tax would be more effective to generate revenue for the city.
"That's why this new measure is so important to use for salaries for police officers and firefighters," she said. "We're pretty topped out in those other areas (like raising fees). Those are nickels and dimes compared to how this measure would help."
Espinosa also highlighted that the West Contra Costa school district will cover $160,000 to fund all three student resource officers at Pinole schools, eliminating the need for the city to cover the costs. She credited Councilwoman Debbie Long for her diligent work with the district.
"It's always a team effort," Long said. "We have a good working relationship with the school district, and I'm proud of that."