Galt City Councilmembers and city staff spent nearly two hours discussing Measure R and its subsequent funding at the City Council meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 16. Before the Council was the acceptance of the Measure R Committee report for the 2018-19 fiscal year (FY), delayed due to a calamity of events, beginning with the police data loss in mid 2018, the ransom ware attack in late 2019, and COVID in 2020.

What is usually just a formality, the report turned into a two-hour presentation and discussion reviewing what Measure R is and what the funding can be used for – two subjects that many feel is up for interpretation.

The Galt Police Department receives the bulk of its monies from the general fund, allocated during the city’s bi-annual budget process.

Passed with a 70% voter approval in 2008, Measure R (now Galt Municipal Code Section 3.40.140) is a ½ cent retail sales and use tax intended to enhance funding for public safety.

Per the measure, taxes collected can only be used for police services and equipment. Its initial expenditure plan was to provide for five additional patrol officers, one school resource officer, one gang task force officer and two dispatchers.

Off to a rocky start due to the near two-year “great recession” in 2007 through most of 2009, those positions were not fully funded by the measure until the 2014-15 budget cycle.

The measure also stipulates that revenues collected “shall supplement, rather than replace, existing city expenditures for police services, as reflected in the FY 2007-08 budget.”

The 2007-08 police budget was $5.422 million, coming from the general fund.

According to Galt City Manager Lorenzo Hines Jr., once the nine positions were funded and the police department’s general fund monies were allocated, the code allowed the Council to amend the expenditure plan, permitting for additional Measure R funding to be spent elsewhere in the police department, including on additional positions.

“The code section states that the police services expenditure plan may be amended from time to time by a majority vote of the City Council, so long as the fund continues to be utilized for police services,” Hines said.

According to Hines, that’s precisely what the Council did in 2015 when, among other decisions, the Council approved a detective position to be funded by Measure R, when they adopted the 2016-17, 2017-18 FY budget, and then once again for the 2018-19, 2019-20 FY. Although it’s the current fiscal year detective position that came under the microscope.

Measure R Committee member Kami Martin spoke during public comment both at the Jan. 19 meeting and the Feb. 16 meeting, saying she had “grave concern” regarding what she feels is the misallocation of $284,560 of Measure R funds, monies spent on a detective position.

“Funds which were improperly spent on a position that, to be frank, does not exist in our current department,” Martin told Council.

Martin acknowledged that current staff wasn’t to blame for the initial mistake, but that it’s their responsibility to fix it.

Although Hines said that there was a “miscommunication” between the police and finance departments during the budget process regarding the detective position, he made it clear that nothing was illegal in what was done.

“There was some question earlier this year about a position that had ended up in Measure R when the current budget was passed,” Hines explained. “That position, because it was passed by the Council, is authorized; it is duly authorized and appropriately authorized.”

However, Hines admitted that the process did not meet his own transparency standards.

“The only change I would make is that staff needed to be a bit more transparent and making sure that Council knew that that position was in the expenditure plan, and I think staff did not do a good job of that,” Hines said.

Hines felt so strongly about the lack of clarity in the additions to the Measure R expenditures, he told Council that, under his watch, the Measure R expenditure plan will be addressed as a separate item, outside of the overall adopted budget.

Interim Police Chief Brian Kalinowski agreed with Hines.

“The expenditures that we’ve made and the requests that we’ve made have all been vetted through the city attorney’s office and through the city manager’s office, and approved by Council, so no expenditures that we’ve done have been outside the bounds of what’s been approved by this Council,” Kalinowski said. “And I think Mr. Hines, his approach about a separate item within the budget calling out the expenditure plan for the year, and perhaps some years out, so folks know what the revenues and expenditures are so we’re not running out of money, is important for the community. And I think we also need to be sharing that with the committee before we roll it out to Council.”

Hines told The Galt Herald Monday that he intends to “leave all funds bare.”

“We will be very transparent with the utilization of Measure R funds,” Hines said. “We will bring proposals forward so that spending will be abundantly clear to not just Council, but to voters as well.”

Hines said that there is $1.3 million sitting in the Measure R fund, monies that could be used for programs and other department needs.

“I can pretty much guarantee that the voters who voted this in didn’t intend for this fund to be a savings account,” Hines said. “They intended it to be utilized by the Galt PD, again for all programs, functions and operations of that department and to increase their presence in the city of Galt’s neighborhoods, parks and schools. And so it’s there as a lever to allow the Galt PD to do what it needs to do.”

Moving forward, Hines said that, despite the recent inquiries, he is more concerned about getting the police department the support that it needs.

“I’m more concerned about the wellbeing of the Galt Police Department than the controversy regarding the spending,” Hines told The Galt Herald. “We will meet the benchmarks set forward in the measure, and we will be very transparent on how funding is spent.”

The Measure R Committee will meet tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. Those wishing to watch or participate in the meeting should log on to https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85058930051.