The idea behind Measure Z – the sales tax that will bring in millions of dollars a year to the county for public safety – was conceived during a series of sparsely attended public meetings held early last year in a small building tucked behind McKinleyville Middle School.
The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) was looking at ways to improve local law enforcement. Specifically, the McKMAC wanted more deputies patrolling the streets of McKinleyville – more “boots on the ground,” as committee members phrased it.
But as the committee delved into the issue, it became apparent that tackling crime would require more than just deputies. There needed to be enough prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office to put the criminals behind bars. There needed to be enough jail guards to keep them there. And when the criminals get out, there would need to be enough probation officers to supervise them.
So the McKMAC voted to encourage the Board of Supervisors to pursue a sales tax measure that would boost “public safety” in Humboldt County. There wasn’t any confusion as to what the McKMAC was asking for. It was about deputies and DAs and the whole criminal justice system.
The Board of Supervisors ultimately decided to put the matter on the ballot. In the campaign to get Measure Z passed, voters were told that “public safety” included law enforcement and fire departments. Fair enough. Adding firefighters into the mix was a well calculated political maneuver intended to bolster support for the measure, which passed in November.
But now the idea of “public safety” is being even more broadly defined. The Citizens Advisory Committee on Measure Z is sorting through requests from government agencies and non-profits for a share of the $8.8 million the tax is expected to generate each year.
Among those “public safety” requests are funding proposals for tree cutting at airports, sidewalks in McKinleyville and even a sculpture garden in Rio Dell. While some of these projects may be worthwhile, and may even be related to public safety, they should be flatly rejected.
The advisory committee should recommend that the money be used mostly for cops, with a small portion going to firefighters. Voters never intended the money to be used for sidewalks, tree chopping or for the Assessor’s Office to hunt down unpermitted structures.
The public wants the money to substantially beef up law enforcement to go after the feral criminals that roam the streets, wreak havoc, bash out windows and steal anything they can get their hands on. Since firefighters have to show up at some crime scenes to stop the bleeding and patch up the victims, they should get a small cut of the tax revenue.
If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t rein in the requests and focus the spending on actual law enforcement, the original idea behind Measure Z will get lost. Law enforcement would then continue to be underfunded and we’d be right back where we started, trying to figure out how to get more boots on the ground.
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