Merced · Politics

‘It’s an opiate addiction’: Pushback on police forces Merced to punt safety tax extension

Any hope of Merced moving forward to extend its 17-year-old public safety and transportation tax was dashed Monday night. 

The Merced City Council held a special meeting Monday to consider the renewal of Measure C, which first passed in 2005 and is set to expire in 2026. 

Measure C is a half-cent sales tax that provides funding for the Merced Police Department, the Merced Fire Department, and public works projects. 

Dubbed the Merced Vital City Services Protection Measure, the scuttled 2022 renewal measure did not include a sunset clause. 

But the two-thirds vote threshold requirement was too high of a margin to reach for the council as five votes would have been needed to pass it. 

The motion failed on a 4-3 vote.  

The coalition of Councilmembers Jesse Ornelas, Fernando Echevarria and Bertha Perez prevented the effort from moving forward. 

A large part of their argument against the renewal effort centered on the survey the city previously conducted to gauge the community’s interest in the measure, which brought back positive results. 

Echevarria argued that the survey was “completely biased” and asked for a more engaging survey in the future for a possible renewal in 2024. 

Their other major point revolved around the funding being sent to the police department and how it would be utilized. 

“For years, generations, how we view community violence, how we view community safety and the health of our neighborhoods has been through one lens. We’ve been funneling tax dollars like it’s an opiate addiction to people, and we’re doing the same thing over and over again, conditions in our communities continue to get worse,” Ornelas said. 

“We keep just giving tax dollars away to public safety. We’re going to keep doing the same thing that they’re always doing, and we’re not any better for it. When are we going to get creative on how we’re going to heal our neighborhoods? At what point are we going to do it? We can get creative on Measure C and start implementing some of these ideas that people have.” 

Before the vote, Mayor Matthew Serratto spoke to the financial health of the city, arguing that Measure C made it possible for Merced to use its allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for various social programs.  

“I think so much of what we do not just with public safety but other things – and everything, for example, we were able to do with ARPA and all the housing programs, the youth jobs programs, on and on, those items – they’re all possible, and they were all possible because the city was in good fiscal health and good financial health,” Serratto said. 

“And that is in large part because of Measure C. And if we don’t have this, then all of that to a huge extent goes away. You look at city after city with their ARPA dollars, what did they do? They funded police officers. They did other public safety, filled gaps in their funding, did that on and on. What did we do? None of that, because we were in a great financial position, in part because of this, in part because of good financial management over the last decades.” 

Serratto went on to admonish his three colleagues in opposition for their refusal to support the measure and, in turn, law enforcement. 

“I get your frustration. I get the attitude towards – a lot of people don’t like law enforcement. Fine, I get that. But it just seems that if we do this, if we vote no on this, what are we doing? It’s the classic cutting off the nose to spite the face,” Serratto said. 

The mayor asked the three opposing council members what it would take for them to switch their vote and support the measure Monday, but they answered that there was nothing that could be done to make them reconsider.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.