Antioch is in a pickle. After slashing $11 million from last year’s budget, resulting in layoffs, service cuts, closure of City Hall on Fridays and 73 positions remaining unfilled – including 20 police officer positions – city officials are now looking at cutting millions of dollars more in the coming year.
The casualties have included the city's support for the Fourth of July festivities and the Delta Blues Festival, which may go on without that support, support for operating the Antioch Historical Society Museum and limited arts funding, which may close the Lynn House Gallery in January.
With city officials considering City Manager Jim Jakel’s “doomsday scenario” of providing only the city services mandated by law, there is the potential for cuts in funding for the animal shelter, recreation programs, Prewett Water Park and elimination of the Holiday DeLites and Veteran’s Day parades, among other events. City Hall is likely to continue to remain closed on Fridays.
Because most of the General Fund budget goes for police and public works, there is potential for further cuts in those areas as well, which could affect public safety and lead to deterioration of streets and parks.
The City Council is, understandably, reluctant to make such drastic cuts affecting the quality of life in Antioch. So the council members are discussing the possibility of asking residents to support a tax hike. A survey might be conducted to determine residents’ support for a range of tax hikes, based on the level of city services they would provide.
A tax hike might be necessary, and residents might be willing to support some level of extra taxation, particularly if it fills the 20 vacant police officer positions.
But residents have already been hit hard by the recession, by last year’s state tax hike and by a recent city trash rate hike on the large containers that is transferring an extra $1 million into city coffers over the next two years. And too many Antioch residents remain unemployed and are struggling to hold onto their homes.
Before residents are asked to make an additional sacrifice, they should know exactly where their money would be going. To provide full transparency, city officials should post on the city Web site a listing of the salary and benefits for each city position (including an itemization of the cost of each benefit) from top management down.
There has been justifiable concern from many in the private sector that public sector employees’ salary/benefit packages have become overly generous, especially in comparison with what most employees receive outside of government. If city officials do not provide that openness and transparency, residents might justifiably wonder what they are hiding and why, and that’s a tough climate in which to ask for more.