Mayor Roland Velasco, Police Chief Scot Smithee, Interim Fire Chief Jeff Clet and City Administrator Gabriel Gonzalez all signed an open letter posted online Sept. 19 to the city’s “Your Voice” website, pleading for public support for a boost in the city’s 9 percent sales tax to help pay for police and fire department salaries.
The next day, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce sent an online survey to its members, seeking opinions on a quarter-cent sales tax referendum in March 2020.
Along with the online letter detailing the needs of the fire and safety departments, the city attached a link to a survey asking residents to rank their perceptions of Gilroy’s first responder departments. The city’s letter, unlike the Chamber survey, did not specify an exact amount for a proposed sales tax increase.
The city’s online appeal began with a reference to the performance of police officers and firefighters at the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting.
Community Engagement Coordinator Rachelle Bedell said city staff has been monitoring a budget gap that will occur with increasing service demands. She said an estimated lack of future funding is what sparked discussion of a sales tax that would be dedicated solely to police and fire departments.
Bedell said copies of the survey were also mailed to residents the week of Sept. 16 and that the online survey will be open through Oct. 11. The link was shared on social media as well.
“None of us will ever forget the tragedy that struck our community on July 28, 2019,” the online letter began. “Even so, we can see the growing signs of resilience in our community every day. ‘Gilroy Strong’ has come to mean something, bring our community together and continue to help us heal.”
The officials’ letter continued:
“Our first responders went above and beyond to protect and serve Gilroy in a time of need. With respect for all of them, we write you today with an important update.
“Long before the July 28 tragedy, starting three years ago, our city council had been studying Gilroy’s public safety needs in detail. Our studies have shown there is a budget gap between current and future service demands and existing police and fire service levels.
“To address this, the city began studying the possibility of a 2020 sales tax dedicated only to police and fire services.”
The city raised the issue of funding for public services in the Gilroy Fire Department’s executive summary of standards of coverage assessment and master plan update and its operational capacity assessment, and on Feb. 19, the council approved community-wide polling for the possible tax increase.
The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce survey aims to gauge support for a sales increase, which would directly impact retail businesses. Chamber President and CEO Mark Turner said he hopes to get at least 200 responses.
He said the responses will be used to determine whether or not the Chamber board supports the tax increase.
“At some point the Chamber board will take a position on this issue,” Turner said.
According to Turner, the board will likely decide at the meeting in October.