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Support Sought for Tax to Fund Public Safety Agencies

September 15, 1993|SARA CATANIA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Local law enforcement officials gathered Tuesday to muster support for a half-cent tax that would help pay for Ventura County firefighters, sheriff's deputies and criminal-justice services.

County voters will decide in November whether to approve Proposition 172, which would extend an existing sales tax due to expire at the end of the year. In Ventura County, the tax raises between $26 million and $30 million a year.

"Passage of Prop. 172 may be the single most important thing we can do to keep adequate safety in our county," said Otto G. Stoll, president of Citizens for a Safe Ventura County.

The organization, which lobbies on behalf of law enforcement, is leading the local effort to raise funds to promote the tax.

The group claims 2,000 members countywide and belongs to a statewide coalition called Californians for Strong Law Enforcement. The coalition hopes to raise between $3 million and $4 million to pay for television, billboard and direct-mail advertising in support of the measure, spokeswoman Sharon Hawkins said.

At a noon news conference outside the Ventura County Hall of Administration, Stoll presented Sheriff Larry Carpenter and Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury with a $1,000 check from the citizens group to kick off the local campaign.

"We've enjoyed the reputation of being one of the safest counties in the country," Bradbury said. "If this doesn't pass, circumstances will be dramatically different."

Under state guidelines, if the tax is extended the county must spend the money on public safety, leaving it up to local governments to decide which agencies would benefit from the tax.

Last month, after meetings with county officials, union representatives for county workers and members of Citizens for a Safe Ventura County, the Board of Supervisors agreed to spend the tax revenue on law enforcement and fire agencies.

Without the money, anti-crime agencies could be forced to cut their budgets by 15%, Carpenter said.

He said the department would have to end routine investigations of all but the most serious crimes, close down the jail in the east county and lay off up to 100 workers.

Bradbury added that without the tax the district attorney's office could lose up to 17 of its 84 prosecutors.

The extension would allow both departments to continue operating at current strength, officials said.

"Generally, people oppose taxes," Bradbury said. "But once they get the message that we're talking about preserving public safety, the message will sell itself."

To drum up support for the measure, Stoll said Citizens for a Safe Ventura County will be canvassing neighborhoods, working telephone banks and asking people to display "Yes on 172" signs on their lawns. The group is also planning a rally and barbecue in October.

"We are confident that people will support this," Stoll said. "There is no question that safety is a top priority."

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