Hercules residents were victimized.
To their credit, when they recognized former City Manager Nelson Oliva's abusive behavior -- using city coffers for his family's gain while ignoring the city's approaching insolvency -- they rose up.
They replaced and recalled council members who had ignored the problems. They elected new leaders who have worked hard to try to put the city back on solid fiscal footing.
It's not easy. Oliva left a disaster behind. The city has had to cut expenditures 35 percent in just two years. Police staffing has been reduced 38 percent.
At the same time, the city defaulted on redevelopment bond payments and was saved by a court from having to seek bankruptcy protection. City officials are working feverishly to sell off city-owned projects and vacant land to pay off debts.
Yet looking ahead to the 2012-13 fiscal year, the city is $1.9 million, or 15 percent, short of what it needs to fund its meager level of service. To bridge that, current council members must further tighten expenditures and residents must help them raise more money.
For that reason, we urge city voters to approve Measure O, a four-year, half-cent sales tax increase on the June ballot, and Measure N, which would allow the city to try to sell its financially failing electric utility experiment.
The sales tax increase would push the city rate to 8.75 percent, one of the highest in Contra Costa, but matching most of neighboring
However, in this case, Hercules officials are being reasonable. Measure O would only raise an additional $400,000 to $500,000 a year, which would mean the city would still have to make further cuts.
The city might be able to save more money if it sells the Hercules Municipal Utility, a debacle that dates back even before Oliva's tenure. Created in 2001, it was expected to serve more than 1,800 new homes near the bay in the north part of the city. Yet today it serves only about 800 customers.
Dreamed of as a moneymaker, it's been a financial loser, expected to cost the city $330,000 this year and $730,000 next year. It's not clear that city officials can successfully sell the utility. But they need voter authority to try.
In short, neither measure is a cure for the city's financial ills, but they're both reasonable steps on the long road to recovery. Undoing years of corruption and financial abuse won't happen overnight.
The new city manager arrived just seven months ago; the finance director was hired two months ago. While a report from the state Controller's Office last week understandably trashed the city's accounting practices, the blame lies with past workers. The new administration understands the problem but needs time to turn the ship.
Residents should rally behind their new elected officials and management team by giving them tools they need. Vote yes on Measures N and O.