“The state of the city, as I said seven months ago, was good,” he said. “Let me make a little bit of change to that. The state of the city is good. But because we are here at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, it is guarded, it’s stable, it’s not on life support, it’s breathing on its own. And with your help and our nurturing, Antioch will survive and be stronger than ever before.”
While the mayor chose to accentuate the positive, Finance Director Dawn Merchant was more grim in her report describing the city’s fiscal crisis. In the past two years, sales tax revenue has dropped 15 percent, property taxes are down 20 percent and community development fees are off 40 percent. “Every city in the state of California, as well as the state of California, is facing dire financial straits,” she said. “And we definitely are not alone in that. We will continue to face challenging economic times.”
As a result, city officials have slashed $11 million from the General Fund budget, laid off two dozen employees, closed City Hall every Friday, frozen hiring, reduced equipment and supply purchases, rescheduled police officers in order to reduce overtime, and gotten wage and benefit concessions from the employee unions. “Personnel costs are approximately 70 percent of the general fund budget,” said Merchant. “So, unfortunately, many of the cuts have to come in the form of staffing and salaries.”
More cuts will be on the way in the next year or two because property values are projected to decline another 2 percent in the coming year, further decreasing property tax revenue, while sales tax revenue is expected to only moderately increase. Contributing to the fiscal woes, the city’s contribution to the Public Employee Retirement System will be increasing to help offset “the huge losses” that the statewide fund suffered in the market downturn, said Merchant.
“We are still facing a difficult road ahead as we get into this next budget cycle,” she said. “The departments are evaluating their budgets to see what further expenditures we can cut. And also new ways to possibly raise revenues or reorganize to accomplish tasks more efficiently. We are not out of the woods. Definitely not. We are going to continue to keep our positions frozen. We may have to meet with employee bargaining groups again to continue (wage and benefit) concessions beyond June 30.
“Staff will continue to evaluate how we operate to provide the same level of service with less. I’m sure everybody in the community has noticed that it may be a little more difficult to get through to City Hall to get your bills paid and to get stuff done quickly. We are trying as best we can with the resources we have. It’s everybody’s utmost goal to provide the best level of services that we can to our citizens.”
Council budget workshops will be held this spring to determine which programs and services will need to be further reduced. Davis emphasized that police protection remains a top priority. But he did not guarantee that sworn officer positions, which heretofore have been untouched by cuts, would be preserved. “Staffing levels will likely continue to be reduced to meet budget shortfalls,” he said. “Each program and service provided by the city of Antioch is and will be under review.
“It is times like this that test leaders in this community. We continue to recognize that the city’s finances and services are significantly constrained, with no immediate letup in the near future. We will get through this. When we do, we will be stronger because of it. It’s going to be a tough time the next budget cycle. If you thought this last budget cycle was bad, this next one has no promises of being any better, if not worse.”
On a more positive note, the $22 million Antioch Community Center under construction in Prewett Park is due to open in October or November. The 38,000-square-foot facility will feature an 11,000-square-foot gym, a community hall for banquets and wedding receptions that accommodates 300 people, classrooms, a technology center, library annex, police substation and 300-seat amphitheater on the hillside behind the center. It remains to be determined, however, how the cash-strapped city budget will fund operation and maintenance of the center. For more information, go online to www.antiochcommunitycenter.com.