An idea to place a parcel tax for more police on the November ballot sank immediately after being floated at last week’s Antioch City Council meeting.
“It was hopeful that the council would consider fast-tracking it and telling the city attorney to put it together, but the council wasn’t willing to do that,” said Councilman Gary Agopian, who had the proposal placed on the agenda on behalf of Citizens for a Safe Antioch. “I think the timing on it was very rough. They asked me to bring it forward, and that’s what I did, but it was too late.”
In order to put a measure on the ballot, the council would need to pass an ordinance requiring two public readings, but only one more regular meeting is scheduled before the Aug. 1 deadline. Agopian was unable to garner the support of the rest of the council for a special meeting on July 17 to make it possible.
The council declined to proceed partly because Citizens for a Safe Antioch had not completed a survey to determine if voters supported the tax, which would require a two-thirds majority to pass. The group planned to have the results by July 17, but the council majority did not like the idea of getting the results and voting on a measure at the same meeting.
Crime Prevention Commissioner Bill Cook originally proposed the idea for a parcel tax at the Jan. 24 council meeting. At that time, the council said the matter would be brought up at future meetings.
Over the last several months, Cook has garnered the support of Antioch Crime Prevention Commission Coordinator Hans Ho, retired Antioch Police Lt.Rick Marchoke and resident Terry Ramus. The group has secured independent funding for the poll, but Ho said its results would be useless since the measure cannot be put on the ballot for the November election.
“It’s disappointing,” said Ho, adding that he wasn’t sure what proponents would do next.
Councilmember Brian Kalinowski said that organizations intending to place something on the ballot would be better served if they bring their ideas to the council first. “I feel caught off guard about special elections and things that are near and dear to my heart, but I do not have knowledge of,” he said.
Still, Agopian said he sees a silver lining in missing the November ballot: A bill currently pending in the state legislature would lower the threshold for public safety taxes from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent. Statewide, California voters have consistently rejected measures requiring two-thirds approval, passing only 45 percent of such measures since 2001, according to Californiacityfinance.com.
The most recent attempt to pass a police tax in Antioch was 2010’s Measure P. The half-cent sales tax needed 50 percent to pass, but garnered only 48 percent. Opponents said the tax would have hurt local businesses and did not guarantee the money would be used for police.
The parcel tax proposed last week would have been more restrictive, and could only be used for policing. The APD is working with 94 sworn officers, 35 less than allocated, and no non-sworn, community service officers, who were all laid off in 2009. According to the city’s crime statistics through the month of May, the number of arrests is down, but rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, vehicle theft and arson are all on the rise.