“If we do nothing, we’re giving our city a death sentence,” City Councilmember Gary Agopian said. “We have to do something. The question is: what, how much and how? That’s where we have to get real smart.”
The City Council intends over the next several months to gather the public’s opinion before moving forward with either a sales, parcel or business-license tax, presumably on the November ballot. To become law, a parcel tax or revenue tax mandated for a certain use requires two-thirds approval.
The tax would be used to address what Agopian called a “crime emergency” in the city.
The city currently employs the same number of sworn officers it employed in 1995, when Antioch had 30,000 fewer residents and about 35,000 fewer calls for service. The city’s general fund revenues have decreased by approximately $13 million since the 2006-07 fiscal year, forcing $7 million in the reduction of expenditures.
On the heels of the failure of a half-cent sales tax in 2010, which proponents said was targeted for law enforcement, the council emphasized the need to thoroughly research the possibilities before proposing another revenue-generating measure.
“The purpose of this is to have something successful, and elections are very expensive,” said City Councilmember Tony Tiscareno. “If we are going to do something like this, you have to have the buy-in from the public. I think having their input and a good poll will go a long way.”
An estimate from the Contra Costa County Clerk estimates an election would cost the city $207,000 for a special all-mail ballot election or $251,000 for an election with a stand-alone polling place.
Before the council will move forward with a measure, City Manager Jim Jakel intends to provide estimates to help determine how much the city must increase police staffing levels to the status quo of 123 sworn officers or the ideal number of 144 – a mark recommended by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
Mayor Wade Harper would like to explore the possibility of taxing landlords. “There are people that own several different homes,” he said, “and are basically running it like a business and not paying a tax.”
Agopian said he’d like to see the tax mirror Pittsburg’s Measure P, passed last June, which levies a half-cent sales tax on citizens for five years and then a quarter-cent sales tax for five more. It also includes citizens’ oversight, mandatory audits and consistent community reporting, which Agopian favors.
According to Councilmember Mary Rocha, the fate of any measure rests in the hands of voters, which is always a gamble. “I think the momentum right now is to go for some kind of relief, so that we can get our police back on,” she said. “I know we need to go through the process; it just seems like some of us want it now instead of waiting, and at the same time that is a risk.”