Editor’s note: Harry Black has been the city manager of Stockton since 2020. Prior to this appointment he was Cincinnati’s city manager from 2014-2018. Mr. Black’s views do not represent those of the Stocktonia management and staff.

In 2012, Stockton found itself at a crossroads, grappling with the harsh reality of bankruptcy. A decade later, Stockton’s Measure A, a general-use sales tax initiative, has played a pivotal role in helping the city recover from its fiscal woes, revitalizing essential city services, and sparking vital conversations about public safety. As we approach the reauthorization of Measure A, we must recognize both its accomplishments and the challenges it faces. Challenges such as today’s complex environment for law enforcement, as well as the challenges of a post-pandemic economy, inflation and increasing service delivery demands of the public.

A Summary of Measure A

Measure A, initially passed by voters as a 10-year general-use sales tax measure, was a lifeline for Stockton during its darkest hours. This measure was not earmarked for a specific purpose, but rather intended to bolster the city’s finances and provide flexibility to address a range of urgent needs. It allowed Stockton to recover from bankruptcy and take steps toward restoring essential city services that had been severely impacted by financial constraints.

Clarifying Measure A as a General Tax Measure

Crucially, Measure A is a general tax measure, not a special tax with a dedicated purpose. This means that revenue generated from the sales tax increase goes into the city’s general fund, providing a lifeline for various essential services, including law enforcement/public safety. This flexibility was a strategic move, ensuring that Stockton could respond dynamically to its evolving needs. Today, Measure A accounts for, on average, 16% to 18% of the city’s general fund budget. Measure A revenues for 2022 were approximately $45 million. 

Restoration of Essential City Services

Measure A has proved instrumental in restoring essential city services ranging from parks and libraries to violence prevention to public works and, notably, law enforcement. Measure A funding has allowed the city to recover from the depths of bankruptcy and improve the quality of life for Stockton residents. Public safety (police/fire) currently consumes 75% of the total general fund budget, an unusually high percentage when compared to other similarly sized urban cities.   Without Measure A, non-public safety essential services would be absolutely decimated, impacting public works, community services, violence prevention, and economic development to mention just a few. However, I remain optimistic that as long as we view this reauthorization moment as an opportunity to continue the post-bankruptcy renewal process, we can further fortify the public safety and essential services intent of the framers of the Marshall plan and architects of Measure A. This is an opportunity for us to be smart and deliberate, while enhancing overall community cohesion.

 Challenges in Recruiting and Retaining Police Officers

It’s essential to acknowledge the difficulties faced by the Stockton Police Department, which mirror challenges faced by police departments nationwide. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the tragic death of George Floyd, and a decline in interest in law enforcement careers have combined to make recruiting and retaining police officers increasingly challenging.

These challenges, while complex, are not insurmountable. They underscore the need for creative solutions that align with the evolving expectations of our communities. While we must address these issues, we should also recognize the pivotal role that law enforcement plays in maintaining public safety.

The number of patrol officers per 100,000 residents has declined to 1991 levels.

Source: “Law Enforcement Staffing in California” Public Policy Institute of California Authors: Brandon Martin, Magnus Lofstrom and Andrew Skelton

An Opportunity for Creativity and Sustainability

As Stockton contemplates the reauthorization of Measure A, it stands at a unique crossroads. This moment presents an opportunity to address both the recruitment and retention challenges faced by the Police Department while ensuring the continued sustainability of other essential city services.

Creative solutions could include:

  1. Full Bankruptcy Recovery and Renewal: Continue leveraging Measure A to sustain non-police essential services.
  2. Optimizing Transparency and Intentionality: Learning from the previous ten years and perfecting Measure A oversight, reporting and expenditure guidelines.
  3. Police Department Recruitment and Retention: Reprogramming existing police department Measure A funding to accommodate long-term sustainable recruitment and retention solutions.
  4. Community Policing Initiatives and Violence Prevention: Fostering closer ties between law enforcement and the community through outreach programs, building trust, and collaboration.
  5. Investing in Training and Development: Enhancing training programs to equip officers with the skills and knowledge needed for modern policing, including de-escalation techniques and community engagement.
  6. Support for Officers: Offering mental health support and wellness programs for officers to mitigate the strain of their demanding roles.
  7. Partnerships with Educational Institutions: Collaborating with local educational institutions to create pathways into law enforcement careers and fostering interest among local youth.

In reauthorizing Measure A, the city can demonstrate its commitment to addressing the challenges faced by the Police Department while upholding its responsibility to provide essential non police city services. We must embrace innovative solutions and community dialogue to create a safer, more vibrant Stockton.

Stockton’s recovery from bankruptcy was made possible through the broad-based support of Measure A, a measure that brought the community together in times of need. Let us continue to work collaboratively, acknowledging the complexities of our current environment, and chart a path toward a brighter and more prosperous future for our city.

As Stockton navigates these uncharted waters, the reauthorization of Measure A represents not just an opportunity but an imperative to evolve, adapt, and strive for a more secure and resilient community. Together, we can ensure that our city remains a place where every resident can live, work, and thrive in safety and prosperity.

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1 Comment

  1. Measure B was passed at the same time. (With a higher passing vote than measure A passed by) to regulate the spending of Measure A. Measure B stated that 65% of Measure A revenues would be spent on law enforcement, including the hiring of 100 more officers. This article fails to mention that and instead tries to send the message as there were no specific expectations of how measure A money would be used. Simply not true. The voters were clear on where measure A money was intended to be spent when they voted to approve it for its intended use.

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