Addressing crime in Grass Valley with taxes? | TheUnion.com

Addressing crime in Grass Valley with taxes?

Walking through downtown Grass Valley, Elizabeth Poston notices a difference in the way the community is policed.

"I'm seeing more police officers driving around and checking on things," she said. "I'm seeing them parked in areas that are high traffic for transients. I'm seeing officers on foot here and there."

The city's streets and parks feel safer to Poston than they did just a few years ago — a change she attributes in part to a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2012 that has provided funding for extra fire and police personnel and road improvement projects.

Today, she's more likely to take her five-year-old daughter to the park. But she notes there's room for improvement in the effort to make Grass Valley a safer and more welcoming community.

"We still have a long way to go," Poston said.

Stepping up

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A new tax measure, which will appear on the ballot in June, proposes repealing Measure N — which raised the city's sales tax by a half-cent and has been credited with improvements that Poston says are noticeable — and replacing it with a full-cent sales tax increase.

Community members this summer told City Council members repeatedly that Grass Valley officials needed to address what they called rampant crime.

Many told stories about finding needles at local parks, feeling unsafe on the streets and living in fear of fires caused by homeless people camping in the woods.

"This (tax measure) is a great step to helping solve those issues," Poston said.

If approved by voters, the tax increase would ramp up the services funded by Measure N — including additional firefighters and police officers along with road improvements — and would also set aside funds for improvements to city parks.

Similar to Measure N, the tax would be monitored by an independent oversight committee. But, whereas N is set to expire in 2023, the proposed measure has no end date.

An investment

Ed Thomas, head of the Measure N oversight committee, said the half-cent sales tax has raised about $2.7 million annually for Grass Valley.

Five additional employees each have been hired for both the police and fire departments as a result of that money, according to Thomas.

It funded street paving projects on roads including East Main Street and Sutton Way, he said.

"The people of Grass Valley are willing to invest in the community," Thomas said. "They've looked at the sales tax as an investment."

He's a big supporter of the proposed replacement for a tax measure he's seen as a win for Grass Valley.

"I'm optimistic," Thomas said. "I think it's going to make a huge difference in our city."

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.