HERCULES -- A tax hike measure to tackle the city's financial crisis, cruised to an easy victory in Tuesday's lone election in Contra Costa County.
With all five precincts counted as of 11:15 p.m., Measure A passed by a more than 2-1 margin -- 70.7 percent in favor and 29.3 percent opposed. The final tally of 2,841 votes showed the yeas leading the nays by 2,009 to 832. Most of the ballots -- 2,213 -- were mail-ins. Election Day turnout Tuesday was light.
As of 3 p.m., 71 voters had voted in person, plus three who cast provisional ballots, in the multipurpose room of Lupine Hills Elementary School, one of five polling stations in Hercules.
"I'm extremely optimistic; I'm happy to see the numbers come back where they're at," said Chris Tallerico, a member of Keep Our Police Services -- Yes on A, which supported the measure.
"I think they show really strong support for our police department," he said late Tuesday night.
Measure A, which needed a simple majority to pass, hikes the Utility User Tax, currently 6 percent on gas, electric, water and telephone bills, to 8 percent, and extends it to previously untaxed cable TV bills and other unspecified video technology.
Councilman Bill Kelly said Wednesday he is grateful for the "overwhelming support" for Measure A but cautioned:
"It is now our job to continue in our efforts to earn our constituents' trust. I do not see this as the public's glowing endorsement of this council but rather as a simple acknowledgment of the financial realities."
As of last month, there were 12,239 registered voters in the city. The polling stations were open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
City officials said Measure A will raise about $1 million a year for the general fund and go a long way toward plugging a $1.27 million deficit next fiscal year.
If Measure A were to have gone down, officials warned, the city likely would have had to dissolve its police department and contract with the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office for a downsized force, from the current 21 sworn officers, including the police chief, to 16, or even down to 14. A Measure A win, they said, will keep the Hercules Police Department at its current staffing level.
Some residents accused officials of giving out incomplete or misleading information. But no one filed an argument opposing Measure A.
For instance, officials did not make clear why a defeat of Measure A would mean disbanding the police force and going to a smaller sheriff's force rather than downsizing the police department, although some suggested that a free-standing department is impractical below a certain staffing threshold. But even with a sworn staff of 14, Hercules' police department would be larger than the Moraga, Clayton and Kensington police departments, which have 12, 11 and 10 sworn police positions, according to a 2012-2013 law enforcement comparison survey cited by Hercules officials and compiled by Lafayette, a sheriff's contract city.
The survey also showed somewhat higher costs per sworn staff member in contract cities compared with Hercules.
Some residents complained the ballot language did not specify that Measure A would extend the beefed-up tax to previously untaxed cable TV, a fact noted in the City Attorney's Impartial Analysis, which not all voters read.
But Tuesday night's results indicated that voters endorsed the measure's underlying premise that Hercules is in severe financial straits and needs to raise new revenue.
Ballot language such as that calling for "equal treatment of taxpayers regardless of technology" could extend the tax to other technologies in the future if laws change, officials said. Federal law currently bars cities and counties from taxing satellite TV services, but the cable TV industry is lobbying Congress to overturn the ban, saying it gives satellite TV an unfair advantage over cable.
Officials have not explained how some of the projected annual revenue from Measure A adds up. Of the $1 million projected total, $720,000 would come from the increase on gas, electric, water and telephone bills, and $280,000 from the 8 percent taxation of previously untaxed cable TV bills, according to Finance Director Nickie Mastay.
"The $280,000 is a very firm estimate," Mastay said last week, but she said the city does not have an estimate of the number of Comcast and AT&T subscribers in town.
The results of Tuesday's election will be discussed at a joint meeting Wednesday of the City Council Finance Subcommittee, Citizens Finance Committee and Measure O Citizens Oversight Committee; the latter is named after a successful June 2012 ballot measure that raised the sales tax in Hercules by a half-cent on the dollar, to 8.75 percent.
What: Joint meeting of the Hercules City Council Finance Subcommittee, Citizens Finance Committee and Measure O Citizens Oversight Committee
Where: Hercules City Council chamber, 111 Civic Drive
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Agenda topics: Discussion of results of Tuesday's election; review of second draft of fiscal year 2013-2014 budget