At the Jan. 24 Antioch City Council meeting, Crime Prevention Commissioner Bill Cook proposed a parcel tax based on the value of residents’ homes. The tax dollars would allow the city’s police department to hire back 30 sworn officers, 20 community service officers (CSOs), and fund a code enforcement department.
“They’re so shorthanded,” Cook said. “I think this is something that people are really going to get behind.”
Antioch’s budget authorizes the police department to employ 126 officers, but due to the economic recession, the city can currently afford only 94 – and no CSOs or code enforcement officers.
Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando said it would cost roughly $5.5 million to bring the department back to full staffing levels, not including officers’ incentives. Finance Director Dawn Merchant said there are roughly 35,000 taxable parcels in Antioch.
According to Cook, since the parcel tax proposal is in its formative stage, specifics are still being worked out. But city officials worry that the 2010 failure of Measure P might signal that residents are leery of dipping into their own pockets to help Antioch’s thinning blue line. Measure P was a proposed half-cent sales tax increase that proponents said would have gone to the police department, but opponents felt the measure’s verbiage was too vague to make that guarantee. It needed 50 percent of the vote to pass, but received 47.95 percent.
“Whatever the city of Antioch decides to do to financially support city government, I support,” Cantando said. “I’m basically looking at whatever way we can raise money so I can hire staff back.”
Antioch City Councilman Gary Agopian feels that the parcel tax proposal could have some legs, since the proceeds could only be used the police department hire back more officers. A sales tax, on the other hand, would raise cash for the General Fund, which could be spent on police or anything else the City Council chooses. A sales tax could also cause shoppers to spend money in other cities.
Agopian noted that property taxes in recent years have been tumbling along with property values. He believes Antioch residents would be open to a marginal increase in property taxes to aid the city’s overworked police staff.
“Police are excellent, they’re good at what they do, they just don’t have the resources and the bodies to do what they need to do,” Agopian said. “Property values have gone down and it’s a good idea to reinvest part of that. I think that’s a good deal and I think we should talk about it.”
Cook, a 26-year Antioch resident, was appointed to the Antioch Crime Prevention Commission in August as a way to get involved and help Antioch officers. He believes a full police force would make Antioch a safer city and attract more businesses.
“We have to do something, and this is the start,” Cook said. “We’ve got to have a safe place for the kids to go to school, and if we want businesses to come here, we have to show that as a community.”
In order for Cook to get the measure placed on July’s special-election ballot or November’s general-election ballot, the City Council must approve it or it must be sponsored by a community group.
Agopian said the topic would likely come up in a future Antioch City Council meeting.