Measure N puts city residents between a rock and a a hard place

The Lassen County Times does not endorse candidates or measures on the ballot for the voters to decide, and we’re not changing now.

The purpose of this editorial is not to take a side, but to let city residents know what’s at stake with Measure N — the 1 percent sales tax measure that will provide an estimated $1.8 million annually to the city’s general fund, revenue specifically earmarked for public safety purposes only. Because the funds approved by Measure N go to a specific purpose, the ballot measure must be approved by a 2/3 majority of voters.

Now many in Susanville openly acknowledge that a 2/3 margin of victory will be a hard sell and a difficult nut to crack with city voters. Others complain the police department doesn’t adequately take care of crime in the city now, so why in the world would the public want to give them more money when they already can’t control crime in the city or the homeless problem.

Not surprisingly, no one seems to criticize the fire department quite as easily — they respond not only to fire calls but to automobile accidents and medical emergencies as well.

But these noisy criticisms aside, anyone who’s had a situation in which they needed the services of a police officer or a firefighter will tell you when you need a cop, a medic or a firefighter, you really need one because someone’s life and property may be on the line. These are the city’s first responders, and when the call goes out, regardless of the situation, regardless of the weather, regardless of the time of day or night, regardless of the risk they may face by responding, these brave men and women come to our aid when we call. Every time. No exceptions.

City officials warn the level of response from our first responders will surely suffer if Measure N does not pass next month.

For years, the city of Susanville has tried to save general fund money for use on a rainy day, and they’ve put about $3 million aside. This year, they spent about $500,000 of that money to pay public safety expenses. Obviously that $3 million won’t last too long against these kinds of expenditures.

The city, like other cities and counties across the state face an increasing contribution to CalPERS the state’s retirement system, the largest cause of the city’s budget shortfall. At one time CalPERS advised government entities it was awash with cash that could go to retirees through larger benefit packages and the government entities responded. But those cheery estimates from CalPERS didn’t pan out and now these government entities must pay their share of these benefits, which have come to known as “unfunded liabilities.”

It would be easy to play the blame game and criticize former leaders who made these deals with employees, but attaching blame somewhere won’t help resolve the city’s budget problem.

It all comes down to this — city residents can approve Measure N and hopefully at the least continue or improve the level of services they have today for many years into the future or they can vote against Measure N and see drastic reductions in those public safety services. Are public safety services vital enough to warrant a 1 percent sales tax increase — a single penny on a dollar?

Some of those consequences may include contracting with the county for law enforcement services, and the creation of a volunteer fire department which will lower our ISO ratings and raise everyone’s fire insurance premiums. Which way will we go? Susanville residents will decide.