The council did not discuss that possibility, but instead focused on whether it should still spend money to survey residents’ views of the way things are going in Antioch and whether residents would support a tax hike to help pay for police services.
In a marked contrast to his optimism about the budget outlook in a candidates’ forum before the November election, Councilman Brian Kalinowski sounded alarm bells Tuesday night about the dire situation.
“The reality of all of the (budget cut) actions that this council took at the last meeting, which was a huge first step, we end next year still with a deficit of $1.2 million, and that’s very concerning,” he said. “There is no more rainy-day money; there are no more rabbits out of our hat or tricks that we can pull to make it right. So that is the gravity of the situation.”
The budget cuts include leaving vacant positions vacant, postponing the hiring of a deputy district attorney, reducing services and supplies, reorganizing the Public Works Department, publishing the city newsletter online instead of in print and reducing employee travel and training.
The one cut the council decided to hold off on making was the Citizens Satisfaction Survey, which is expected to cost $50,000. The council preferred to wait until it gets updated revenue numbers in March before deciding whether or not to postpone the survey.
“This might be an important time to get feedback from our citizens as to where they think we should go,” said Councilwoman Martha Parsons. “This could come out of the residential allocation money. I think it’s important to let our citizens have some input.”
Councilwoman Mary Rocha wasn’t sure that this is the right time to gauge residents’ satisfaction with the way things are going. “I’m just wondering what would happen right now when we are all in a serious matter of just holding onto our own houses and holding onto our own jobs,” she said. “I’m just not sure that the timing is correct.”
Councilman Reggie Moore argued that the timing could not be better because the city’s fiscal crisis is an opportunity to find out whether residents would support increasing their property taxes to pay for police services as well as what areas they wouldn’t mind seeing cut.
“No one likes to pay higher taxes,” acknowledged Moore. “But we just can’t cut, cut, cut, cut, cut and expect tomorrow that things are going to be better. There’s only way to gauge that, and that is to engage the public … those who pay the bills.
“They may say a loud and clear ‘no.’ But it’s incumbent upon us to have that conversation. We are looking at 50 to 60 dollars per year (per household) to raise 1 million to 1½ million dollars. I’m sensitive to those on a fixed income. But it targets a specific need and allows us to open up other dollars to do good things for the citizens of Antioch.”
Kalinowski was the only council member opposed to trying to keep the survey in the 2009-10 budget. “What I get a little worked up about is (the view) that perhaps ’09-10 will be better or perhaps the tax receipts will be better,” he said. “What we fundamentally know is they will be worse than they thought. We just don’t know how much more worse that they will be.
“That information needs to be out there. The RDA allocation money could be a source (to pay for the survey). That may also be a source in writing some (pay) checks and paying some bills.”
Mayor Jim Davis suggested that if there were not enough money for a survey, he would create “a Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, which can talk with the public … and report back to the council. Each one of us could nominate an individual, so it’s five diverse individuals, and we will have that feedback from them.
“But I have got to tell you that once the numbers are in from the county and we see where we are really at, I think it’s incumbent upon us as the decision makers for the city and the trust we have from the citizens (to make the necessary cuts). It’s not what we want to do, but something we have to do to keep the city functioning.”