Government / Politics

Measure W tax extension headed for approval

With more than 78 percent of the votes in favor, Measure W supporters were confident of victory

With a recent $240 million transportation tax initiative, Measure P, not doing well well at the polls in San Benito County this past June despite the endorsement of Hollister, San Juan Bautista and San Benito County officials, it was uncertain whether Hollister voters would approve Measure W, a 20-year extension of a one-cent sales tax that officials say is essential to maintaining service levels.

It seems the vote this time wasn't even close, with 78.08 percent of voters agreeing to the tax extension, meaning the expiration of the same tax approved under Measure E will continue unabated in 2018,

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, who was monitoring the numbers at the elections department, said on election night, “I think people have seen what we’ve done with the money over the years and that we’ve made wise choices. That’s how I’m reading it.”

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick was off duty and at Paines Restaurant with the Measure W supporters when the numbers came out. He told BenitoLink that he was encouraged by the early numbers, but would not be able to relax for another couple hours until more votes were tallied.

“I got a chance to talk to the folks involved in the campaign and saw the early votes and feel pretty encouraged,” Westrick said before putting the measure’s effect into perspective. “For about the last five years, we’ve had a decrease in crime and we’ve been pretty effective with some of the programs we have. We brought back school resources officers and it’s nice knowing we’re going to be able to keep the program in place in order to keep our schools safe.”

He said that over the past five years, three police officers have been added to patrol staff, which he said means overtime has been maintained at a constant level.

“I’ve kind of got it figure out now to where I know what our costs are going to be,” Westrick said. “What’s nice is we keep reducing the crime, but our costs remain the same. When you’re able to have more resources like more police officers and programs it allows you to do more than if your budget is really tight.”

City Manager Bill Avera said on election night that he wanted to personally thank the citizens of Hollister

“With those kinds of initial numbers it clearly shows what a good job the city council has done and the faith we have in their decisions,” he told BenitoLink. “This means we can continue to improve the city provide the necessary services and make this the most desirable place in the region to live, play and do business.”

With the oversight required on the measure, he said, and the fact that every two years a majority of the city council is up for election, it offers the community the power to make change if the revenues aren't being spent on citizens' priorities.

“This is about 37,000 people that we provide services to,” Avera said, referencing those who have been critical of the measure and his involvement in promoting it. “This is about going in the right direction over the next 20 years.”

The Hollister City Council agreed at its Aug. 15 meeting to place the measure on the November ballot. Almost immediately, supporters and opponents began lining up.

Tim Burns, who was seeking the District 4 council seat on election night, said in August that while he supported Measure W because the community desperately needed the funds, he did not believe the community has an appetite for additional taxes, as evidenced by the failure of Measure P.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the community to be educated well that this is not a new tax; it’s the continuation of a tax,” Burns told City Council. “However, it’s an increase from five years to 20 years, and I think that is significant. If it is passed, I’d like to recommend to this council that you create an oversight committee to monitor how the money is spent. In addition, have that committee do an annual report to the community, as well as the different departments report on that.”

Avera, who has staunchly and publicly supported Measure W, and was criticized for doing so in a Hollister Free Lance editorial, said there is an oversight committee connected to Measure E, and it will remain in place until it expires in 2018.

“Absolutely, there will be an oversight committee as part of Measure W,” Avera assured Burns and the audience at the August meeting. “And thank you for making everyone aware that this is not a new tax. This is something completely different. It’s extending the sales tax that is currently in place.”

Hollister resident Marty Richman said he also supported the measure because the city has no other choice.

“It makes an enormous difference to us,” he said. “If the citizens would work it backwards to see how much more sales you would have to have to generate that much tax is enormous. It would be better if we could generate it in other ways, but places like San Luis Obispo generate $6 million or $7 million just in transient and occupancy taxes from their hotels. Monterey, a city that has fewer people than we have, generates $14 million or more. We generate something like $700,000, which isn’t much, so we have to generate money somewhere.”

Robert Bernosky, a candidate for the Hollister School District, said that even though he is a Republican who normally opposes taxes and bond measures, the question was, “Are residents getting good value from tax dollars?”

He added, though, that 20 years for a tax was too long.

“The economy will change and it might make sense to roll that back,” he said. “The local Republican Party got behind Measure P. Sadly, it did not pass. Somebody may come to us and ask if we support this. Rob Bernosky, the individual, says this city, the taxpayers, shoppers, they are getting their value for the money.”

In an Aug. 2016 commentary on BenitoLink, Luis Burguillo wrote that Measure W, “…for all intents and purposes, and by definition, is the result of a broken promise or agreement politicians made to the voters five years ago — to set a day certain for its termination. When the Hollister City Council took action to extend the tax and not end it end as promised in five years (2016), however, they surreptitiously and unscrupulously are attempting to raise a permanent tax (20 years) by the use of an extension.”

He added, “Aware that a conservative community such as Hollister would not accept and support an outright tax increase, the ‘politicians,’ in their unbounded foolishness offered the voters a “Trojan Horse” — a TEMPORARY five-year tax increase to pay off certain debts in the hopes that you would not notice the shift, shell game or flim-flam.”

In an October commentary addressed to the voters, Carol Lenoir supported Measure W, writing:  “I appreciated it so much when you passed Measure E. I was so proud of my town. If you could see your way to vote Yes on W, I will be able to finish off my life knowing that the monies will be helping our future in Hollister. Future families benefiting from our decision appeals to me, as I am sure it does you.”

At the Oct. 17 Hollister City Council meeting at which it approved six full-time firefighters and $505,000 in funding, Avera reminded everyone: “If Measure W fails, we will have time to prepare for probably two special elections. Those are when we go out really hard and talk about the services that will be cut in the event that Measure E goes away. When you have a $20-million budget and you take $5 million away, that is a substantial amount of money. Six firefighters are $505,000. Multiply that by 10, and that’s how many things are going to be affected when you don’t have Measure E around.”

Other supporters of Measure W include LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and the San Benito County Business Council. In a commentary,  Kristina Chavez Wyatt, the council’s executive director, wrote: “If enacted, Measure W would prevent budget cuts and maintain current public services that residents and businesses need by simply extending the existing local funding with no increase in tax rate. Measure W would continue providing 20 percent or $4.5 million of the City of Hollister’s General Fund budget.”

Neither Police Chief Westrick, nor Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo can speak on Measure W while on duty. However, the city mailed a letter to what it calls “influencers” describing local services and loosely tying them to Measure W supporting the measure and signed by both chiefs. On the city of Hollister’s website, there are two letters signed by Avera informing citizens of the services the city provides, and by insinuation, would lose if Measure W did not pass.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]