How will you deal with growing crime in the face of reduced budgets? Will you fast-track business expansion proposals, such as the Walmart expansion, which you need to approve, or will you buckle to special interests that don’t represent the community as a whole? What plans do you have to bring new employers to Antioch and improve our local economy? Do you know what you need to do to deal with depressed real estate values?
These are the tough decisions City Council members need to address. We expect the council to make the right decisions. The real question is: Can the current council make the right decisions in the face of adversity?
It is disappointing the lack of skill and insight our local leaders have demonstrated, given the nature of the current economy and how it has affected Antioch. The June 22 council meeting featured the annual budget and how our leaders plan on dealing with Antioch on the brink of bankruptcy.
I expect leaders to be informed and realistic in dealing with issues. While it’s nice having Antioch leaders attend philanthropic events, picnics and organizing parades, we need them focused on the problems facing Antioch. I was amazed at the lack of thought given to two issues.
The first issue involved increasing local water and sewer rates. No one would ever support substandard systems. In fact, Antioch water treatment has always been well funded and a priority. While Antioch citizens face the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, our leaders approved a five-year plan resulting in a 24-percent increase in water rates in just the first two years alone.
Are our city leaders in touch with reality? Councilmember Reggie Moore, indicating that he had experience as a water utility employee, did not oppose the rate increase, just the length of the plan outlined by staff. Unfortunately, his experience as a water meter reader didn’t prepare him very well in recognizing this was a tax increase, affecting all city water users, on an across-the-board percentage basis. If there was an understanding of the relation between an increase in rates and the struggles of those paying the water bills, it certainly wasn’t evident.
The second issue was the approval of the 2010-11 budget. The primary role of our local government is to ensure our safety. Antioch has had some spectacular increases in violent crime in recent years. Citizens are very concerned about Antioch’s ability to provide such basic services as police protection, crime abatement and fixing potholes.
With this in mind, Moore once again showed a lack of understanding of the issues. A very concerned and spirited contingent was present to support Animal Services. In the face of a large number of city employees affected by reduced hours and layoffs, Moore proposed pushing our city closer to bankruptcy by adding more debt to the budget, obviously trying to win the favor of this special-interest group.
We desperately need leaders with the knowledge and understanding of the issues to make tough decisions. Antioch is unfortunately on the fast track to becoming the next Vallejo or Richmond, unacceptable outcomes from a community point of view. Tough economic times sometimes call for difficult decisions. If we are to persevere in this economy, all groups have been asked to make cuts.
What will separate the current cast of leaders from those who can lead us out of this financial hole is the ability to look at the situation, find long-term solutions that will prevent further financial collapse and make the tough decisions we all expect of you.
As a lifelong resident of Antioch, I’ve come to terms that the small community where I was raised is no longer the same town. Having had the honor and privilege of serving the City as a councilmember in the mid 1990s, I remain interested and involved in local events.
Given the dire nature of Antioch’s situation, I would recommend that council immediately convene a blue ribbon panel of residents with backgrounds in financial services, municipal financing, real estate and economic development that can make quick and difficult recommendations to our current leaders. Having qualified people serving Antioch at all levels will be crucial to our long-term economic survival.
Manny Soliz is a former Antioch city councilman.