Antioch Council grapples with budget, how to spend Measure C funds
Public not happy with number of total police officers
By John Crowder
The Antioch City Council conducted a study session at their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 8th, regarding the city budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year and beyond. The tone of the meeting was set early on by City Manager Steve Duran.
“The thing we want to focus on tonight…is…making hard decisions about the structural deficit that we’re running,” he said.
He also stated that the city was going to run out of money in just a few years if steps weren’t taken to both increase revenues and decrease the rate of spending.
“Before Measure C we were going about 100 mph toward a wall that said economic destruction, and Measure C slowed us down to about 80 [mph],” Duran added.
Following Duran’s comments, Finance Director Dawn Merchant, gave a budget presentation. In the staff report which she provided to the Council, it states that reserves will be, “fully depleted in 2019-20.” She went on to answer questions the Council had asked at their previous session. She informed them that not continuing to fund library maintenance would, according to library personnel, possibly result in a reduction in hours from the current 35 per week at the downtown library.
Merchant said that police sworn staffing stood at 82 thirty days prior to the November election. In response to a question regarding how many officers might be hired with Measure C funds, she responded that it depended on several factors, including whether or not the officer was new or experienced, but that the number of new officers could range from 19 to 21. She gave a caveat, however, that bringing on this level of officers could require additional senior sworn staff, vehicles, equipment, support staff, and other items which were not accounted for in these estimates. City staff is estimating $4.3 million in revenue from Measure C in fiscal year 2014-2015.
Merchant provided the Council with several graphs detailing budgetary information, projecting revenues and expenses into future years. Police and animal support, she noted, currently takes up 74% of General Fund expenditures (73% to police and 1% to animal services). The budget allotment proposed for police services for fiscal year 2014-2015 is $32.8 million, including Measure C revenue, noted above.
The general fund also subsidizes certain operations, Ms. Merchant noted. These include $111,000 for golf course water, $165,000 for golf course debt service, $577,000 for recreation services, and $253,000 to Prewett Water Park.
Merchant asked the council for direction regarding continued funding of library maintenance for $112,000 and whether or not to reinstate earthquake insurance for $150,000.
Following the finance director’s presentation, Harper opened the floor for public comments. First to speak was Hans Ho, a former Antioch Police Crime Prevention Commissioner and the city’s Neighborhood Watch Coordinator. He said that the budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 had provision for 101.9 sworn officers. Ho wondered where the money went that reduced funding to allow for only 82 sworn officers. He wondered if their was a sleight of hand with the budget. He also objected to money being allocated for watering the golf course and recreation when there was not adequate money to protect the safety of citizens.
Antioch Real Estate Broker Mark Jordan was the next to speak. He was also unhappy with the proposed budget, and the number of police officers projected.
“We have an income problem,” Jordan stated. “Building all the houses has created a situation in which the city is looking at bankruptcy down the road. It’s not about houses, it’s about jobs. It’s about producing income for the city. You can’t budget your way out of this problem…The truth is, we’re all standing on a railroad track. And the train is coming. And we’re not doing the right things to get out of the way. I don’t agree with the budget.”
Terry Ramus, a leader in the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, spoke next, asking for honesty with the numbers regarding Measure C. He said that, with Measure C, money allocated to the police department would be 32% more than peak-recession levels, yet he’s now hearing there will be less than 100 officers rather than 125.
Marty Fernandez said he thought the budget was “all a hoax” and that nobody was talking about the $80 million unfunded medical liability.
Following the public comments, Mayor Wade Harper asked Merchant for clarification of the difference between officers that are authorized and officers that are funded. She responded “Although in the budget there [were] 102 positions in the last several years…there has not been 102 fully funded for an entire year…it’s roughly 85 positions that are actually paid for in the general fund. There was 102 allocated positions, but they were not all cash funded with dollars.”
Duran then provided further clarification.
“In 2008 the typical cost of a police officer, salary and benefits, was $140,495 and [in the fiscal year ending in 2015] that number is $192,445,” he said. “That’s about a 37% increase per officer…that is the bulk of the cost.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha addresses the budget issues saying that while she hated the word outsourcing, maybe that was something that needed to be considered with respect to the golf course.
Duran then interjected that other things to think about along those lines were the water park, the senior center, other recreational programs and arts and cultural programs. He also noted, in response to the public comments, that residential development would bring more property tax, and would encourage retail to follow, generating additional sales tax.
“Even so, it’s three years before we see some of the positive economic impacts of most of that,” he said.
Merchant then also responded to some of the public comments regarding police officer funding.
“We have 97 sworn in next year’s budget…if we were to add another 20 officers to that, that would be $4.3 million on top of what we’re projecting for the expenses here, so that’s another $4.3 million in fund balance reduction if we were to add another 20 officers beyond that,” she said. “The cost per officer has gone up astronomically since 2008 due to various benefit increases as well as pre-negotiated salary increases in their memorandum of understanding.”
“You know, this is real money and real jobs,” Councilman Gary Agopian said. “This is not made up. We’re making important decisions, we can’t push it off. The gap is not going to get better unless we take in more money, or reduce expenses. There’s only so much money. All the money in Measure C is going to police. I’m not in favor of increasing our non-public safety budget. I will not agree to spend any additional money…We need to continue to hire, but we need to hire in a measured way for public safety. As we get the money, then we can hire.”
“We need to look at a balanced recreation budget. We’re going to have to shut things down, and that’s what Mrs. Rocha is trying to call out,” he added. “I don’t think we can get enough savings just by shutting everything down and running a police department in Antioch…We’re going to have to increase property taxes.” He also mentioned the citizen-led idea to start taxing landlords.
Then Harper also responded to the public comments.
“I went back and reviewed every document that went out…and nothing said, 102 plus 22 [police officers],” he said. “I believe that spending all the Measure C funds on police and Code Enforcement, and getting us as close as we can to the 20 plus officers, using all the Measure C funds, is the promise kept. I don’t believe there’s any broken promises, any sleight of hand.”
The Council then gave direction by consensus on the several items brought forward. They decided no on earthquake insurance, and no on funding for maintenance at the library on East 18th Street.
. The structure of staff positions suggested by Duran was approved, but raises for people whose positions were changed were denied.
Duran suggested that, over the next several months, the City should look into and consider the privatization or sale of the golf course.