Cox said he wanted to show his support for the thin blue line “because of all of the crime we have in the city. I don’t think we need to lay off.”
The council’s budget actions turned out to be good news for police supporters because no officer layoffs were announced. But there was bad news for people who use the Antioch Library, enjoy swimming at Prewett Water Park, participate in city recreation programs and attend plays put on by Hapgood Theatre.
Perhaps the worst news, however, is that after city officials have cut to the bone with about $10 million in reductions to match reduced property and sales tax revenue, they still face another $2 million in cuts due in large part to the state government borrowing $1.6 million in property taxes for the next three years.
“That’s like a – bam – right in our stomachs. We don’t know where we will get that money from,” Assistant City Manager Arlene Mornick told the council, adding that they have time to figure out where to get that money, because the state takeaway won’t go into effect until December.
There were no easy choices on what to cut, but one of the more contentious issues was the decision to reduce the funding that’s been keeping the Antioch Library open 52 hours per week. Instead, the hours will be cut to 35 per week beginning in October, saving the city $100,000 in the next year.
Councilman Reggie Moore was vociferous in his opposition to cutting library hours, comparing it to turning away a hungry child begging for something to eat.
“It’s the heart and soul of this community, providing opportunities to our youth and seniors that they otherwise would not have,” said Moore. “I know these are tough budgetary times, but I cannot in good conscience cut the hours. It’s incumbent on this august body to keep the hours. It’s unconscionable that we would sit here and take away something that provides hope and opportunity, a safe haven, a place to learn and grow and intermingle.”
But Mayor Jim Davis and the other council members voted to cut the hours. “I agree with you on a majority of what you said,” Davis said to Moore. “But a solvent city is more important at this time.”
He added that the hours could be restored when the economy and tax revenue pick up, hopefully in the next two years. Davis added that he would not turn away a hungry child at his door, but he would give the child a broom and dustpan and ask him to clean up his house in return for the food.
The council was in agreement on the recreation cuts, which include closing down Prewett Water Park from November through March, increasing the field rental fee to $5 per hour from the current $2, and a 10-percent reduction in part-time recreation staff, affecting classes, concessions and sports activities.
The council also unanimously agreed to take $350,000 from the city’s recycling fund and use it instead to maintain city streets.
Council members split 3-2, however, on funding for the Arts and Cultural Foundation of Antioch (ACFA) and for the Hapgood Theatre. With the closing of the Best Western hotel to make room for the widening of Highway 4, the city’s hotel tax revenue is expected to be reduced to ACFA, which hosts art shows at the Lynn House Gallery and summer concerts at Prewett Park. The majority of council members voted to keep ACFA funding at about $50,000 along with another $20,000 from a reserve fund.
Not so fortunate was Hapgood Theatre, which has produced four professional-level plays per year for the past two years at the Nick Rodriguez Theater in downtown Antioch. The majority voted against providing $20,000 to the company, half in the form of a grant and half by waiving the rental fee for the theater.
After the cutting was done, an angry Councilman Brian Kalinowski denounced state legislators for borrowing property tax funds from city and county governments as part of a budget deal that he called “flawed and nothing but a Ponzi scheme to kick the can down the road. Simply raiding local governments and thinking that’s OK is unacceptable. Today they are $8 billion short for next year. We have done nothing to solve the problems in Sacramento.”
The one piece of good news amid all the budget woe is that Antioch received $2 million in federal funding over the next three years to retain police officers.