Part of the “Clovis Way of Life”, and a major factor in our population growth, has been our designation as the “safest city in the valley”. That’s why alarm bells rang when Clovis Police Chief Curt Fleming made a presentation to City Council in early November 2021, outlining a staffing shortage and related service concerns. Council members and other city leaders were shocked by the severity of the situation. Some felt the need to dig deeper to see if the problem was simply a lack of funding or if there were other contributing factors.
Join the Citizens’ Advisory Board, made up of 25 community members selected by council, tasked with hearing from the city’s chief and staff to lay bare the police department’s budget and staffing trends, as well as take a crash course in city government and finance.
I was asked to be on the commission and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the situation and look for realistic and effective solutions, preferably without raising taxes, but, to be fair, everything should be on the table.
After six meetings, facilitated by extremely knowledgeable and helpful city staff, the commission found that the police department was actually understaffed and that the funding needed to adapt the service to current needs – an additional $9.2 million per year – could not be found in the city’s general fund (the discretionary part of the budget). For perspective, the general fund stands at $86.2 million, of which $64.4 million already goes to public safety. So reallocating $10 million a year is not a realistic option.
This concluded what I assumed was only the first phase and I was ready for the commission to investigate the details of it all. But, instead, the commission’s work ended with meetings still on the schedule. We concluded and, based on a survey of Commissioners, submitted findings that only a new tax would create the revenue needed to seriously tackle the problem with the required immediacy.
In the end, the commission’s “work” boiled down to nothing more than attending a class and passing the two-question quiz at the end: “Do we need more police personnel?” and “Do we need a new tax to fund this?”
I wanted to explore solutions that would also consider how we got into this mess to make sure we didn’t end up here. Clovis has grown over the past two decades through council-approved residential development. The population growth did not catch anyone off guard, but somehow the growth plans did not include an adequate increase in the police department to serve the expanding population. If Clovis voters agree we should tax ourselves to help fund public safety, how do we know we won’t be back in the same understaffed debacle down the road? Questions about this were raised in the committee, but we never got around to addressing them.
From someone who was there, let me give you the gist: property and sales taxes are the only options that even come close to raising the amount needed. Instead, on June 6, the city council voted to put a tax proposal on the November ballot titled “Clovis Town Public Safety Enhancement Measure.” What is this measurement? A general tax that increases the transitional occupancy tax (known as hotel tax) from 10% to 12% and would increase revenue by $500,000 per year, about $9 million less than needs.
Adding another wrench to all of this, next month begins contract negotiations between the city and the Clovis Police Officers Association. This means that Chief Fleming’s figure of an additional $9.2 million needed per year will likely be exceeded and underestimated in just a few weeks.
The situation with the Clovis police has been going on for years and deserves thoughtful, long-term solutions. The current plan is to solve this problem for the price of a single family home. Does this make sense to anyone? I expect the city to return to seek another, heavier and more serious tax measure on the ballot within two years. It’s hard to imagine voters welcoming a second round of tax talks almost as soon as the ballots for this measure are counted.
Kicking the street is a common practice in politics, but this time, maybe we’ll find out what happens when you run out.
Diane Pearce is a small business owner who lives in Clovis. She is president of the Fresno County and City Republican Women Federated (FCCRWF). Email: [email protected]