Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Bakersfield Is Ready for the Next Chapter After Three Years of Measure N

Bakersfield Is Ready for the Next Chapter After Three Years of Measure N

Entering the fourth full year of the Public Safety and Vital Services tax increase, the city of Bakersfield has mostly concluded the rapid upscaling of its workforce, and is looking to move to the next phase of spending.

Over the past 3½ years, the city has approved 304 new positions, funded solely through Measure N funds. Not every position has been filled, as the city admits the hiring problems that have plagued other industries have also affected its Human Resources Department.

One area of struggle has been the hiring of police officers.

Former City Manager Alan Tandy put forth the goal of adding 100 police officers within three years of the tax measure’s passage, but the city seems unlikely to reach that goal. At the time Measure N passed, the city had 387 officers on staff, with 407 authorized.

Despite hiring 220 officers since the start of Measure N, retirements and transfers have chipped away at the net number of police patrolling Bakersfield’s streets. The city says the Bakersfield Police Department has grown by a net total of 88 officers over the last 3½ years, but that figure includes 35 of the individuals enrolled in a police academy that started on Monday.

Because it is common for a number of academy recruits to drop out before completion, the city will hold two more academies this year in an attempt to reach a net gain of 100 officers by the end of the next fiscal year.

“Speaking to the community, a question that comes about is how is it that we have the monies and funding to ensure that we have enough police officers — we are spending more money than ever on our Police Department — but it appears that crime and safety has also become a hot issue,” said PSVS Citizens Oversight Committee member Fred Prince.

He spoke during a PSVS Citizens Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday in which the City Manager’s Office prepared the committee for funding proposals that would be coming in the next few weeks for the 2022-23 fiscal year budget.

“Hopefully within the presentation that you will be making in the next few weeks, we’ll also see some opportunities to look at areas that will deter crime as well, not just being the responders of crime,” Prince continued.

Still, committee chair Nick Ortiz, also president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, noted some Measure N initiatives like the graffiti removal and cleanup teams have appeared to make a difference, especially downtown.

“We had an issue downtown over the weekend where a number of businesses were tagged last week, including ours, and no one even called, we showed up Monday morning at 8 in the morning and they were already removing it,” he said. “Part of that is this new service attitude of really wanting to improve the community.”

Aside from police hiring, the city’s presentation highlighted the financial boon the PSVS measure has been for the budget. Since raking in $74.5 million in its first full year of implementation, the 1 percent sales tax increase is projected to earn Bakersfield $101.2 million in the next fiscal year.

Around $67.5 million are dedicated to ongoing expenses like employees’ salaries, but the city projects $45.8 million will be allocated to projects like park and infrastructure improvements.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere close to feeling the full impact of Measure N yet,” City Manager Christian Clegg said during the meeting. “We’ve been in the middle of a pandemic for the last two years. We haven’t reached our full staffing. We haven’t expended all of our funds in the programs and initiatives that we’ve identified them for. We’ve had really good things happen and even better things are coming.”