HAYWARD — Voters won gratitude from city budgeteers, police and fire officials Wednesday, one day after they approved a utility tax to maintain public safety services.
The final tally showed 53 percent of Hayward voters supported Measure A. The 5.5 percent tax on electricity, natural gas, telephone and cable bills for both residents and businesses is projected to generate about $13 million annually and close a projected $10 million to $12 million budget deficit next year.
Top city officials said they saw it as a sign of the public's support for the police and fire departments.
"It's a pretty reassuring indication that we're moving in the right direction," police Chief Ron Ace said. "With the economy the way it is, it's a tough thing to ask people to increase their taxes. We're grateful to be getting the community support."
"It was do-or-die time for the city," fire Chief Craig Bueno said, adding that at least one fire station would have been shuttered had Measure A failed.
However, with five of six state propositions failing, both Ace and Bueno said their departments can't be considered out of the danger zone.
According to Assistant City Manager Fran David, there are still "lots of nuances" on how state borrowing will affect Hayward's coffers, but educated guesses put the amount at around $4 million.
She said it was too early to tell exactly where the cuts would come from.
"Residents can be assured that the council has made a strong commitment to (preserving public safety positions), but as the economy continues to take hits, I don't think anything can be considered safe," she said.
David said the city manager will hold a work session on the budget next Tuesday, and come before the council with a proposal the following week.
The utility tax will take effect July 1. Because of varying residential usage, there is a wide range of how much each household will pay. Some organizations that use a lot of services will be hit fairly hard. For example, St. Rose Hospital will pay an extra $75,000 to $100,000 annually. And it will affect the Hayward Unified School District budget by $150,000 a year, district spokeswoman Val Joyner said.
The tax was passed largely by voters filing absentee ballots: Out of 11,683 votes cast, 7,919, or about 68 percent, had been mailed in. That's slightly higher than the Alameda County tally of 65 percent absentee votes. Measure A needed a simple majority to pass.
Money collected from the tax also will sustain library and youth programs, and city maintenance.
The city went through rounds of cuts in the past year that have included a two-week furlough for city employees, a consolidation of departments and the elimination of 50 positions. In addition, police and fire unions agreed to forgo contractual raises for three years.
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Reach him at email@example.com or 510-293-2473.