Antioch Council united in placing revised sales tax measure on November ballot with 20-year sunset, oversight included

Council warned by taxpayers association that the funds will be used to pay pension liability

By Allen Payton

During a fourth special meeting of the Antioch City Council to place a sales tax increase measure on the November ballot, on Thursday, August 9, 2018, the two members who voted against the proposal during Tuesday’s meeting, reversed course and joined the other three for a unanimous vote.  (See related article). The issue was the addition of a 20-year termination, or sunset clause, for the tax and inclusion of continuing the citizens oversight of the use of the funds from the measure. Both Mayor Pro Tem Thorpe and Council Member Monica Wilson who developed the tax measure in their ad hoc committee, had opposed the inclusion of those two items. But, since state law requires a two-thirds vote of the council to place a sales tax measure on the ballot at least one of them had to switch their vote to get the necessary four votes.

The measure, if passed by the voters, will double the half-cent sales tax from Measure C passed by the voters in 2013, to a full one cent on each dollar of taxable sales in Antioch. It will increase the revenue from approximately $7 million to about $14 million per year from the additional tax.. (See related article).

Following Interim City Attorney Derek Cole’s explanation for the need of a fourth meeting and apologizing for the oversight during Tuesday’s meeting, he said, “as long as you have four votes, it can be placed on the ballot.”

Thorpe then made a motion to reconsider the council’s action from Tuesday night, and it was seconded by Wilson.

That had to pass, first or the ballot measure could not be placed on the ballot and according to Cole, “It has to come from the prevailing side, which in this case was those who voted ‘no’.”

The motion passed unanimously. Then, the council heard comments from the public

Mayor Sean Wright read a comment by Jeffrey Klingler emailed earlier in the day.

“I’m very disappointed that this resolution is again before the city council because of a technical oversight,” he wrote. “Moreover, I am particularly frustrated at how we got to this point. Because this resolution and ballot language was presented to the city council at the last minute there was limited time for open discussion and consideration of public comment (for which the structured environment of polling is not a substitute). Nonetheless, the numerous special council meetings have allowed for the necessary discussions to take place and the meeting of August 7th should have brought this issue to closure.”

“The ad hoc committee has been working for many months on the quality of life initiative and it is bewildering this issue could not have been considered much earlier,” Klinger continued. “As such, I believe the obligation for passage lies with the members of the ad hoc committee to strike the appropriate compromise. I am confident that will be the outcome.”

“I look forward to a ballot measure that will help our city move forward with the critical funding necessary for its success,” he concluded.

Resident Fred Hoskins spoke next.

“I’m going to say, unfortunately for you I only have three minutes, because I could express a lot of ideas,” he said. “I am extremely disappointed in every one of you. I can’t believe it has been initiated in the first place. I was never surveyed for anything.”

“How can we jam down the throats of the citizens of Antioch another half-cent sales tax? That’s what this is about,” Hoskins stated.

He said that he campaigned against Measure C

“I said this is not going away. I was right,” he continued. “I have never seen an objective process or projects for the advancement of this city…the land use of downtown has been put on the shelf because they’re too political. No improvements have been made to the waterfront. We have Humphrey’s that’s going to be Smith’s Landing. Great. I hope they’re successful.”

“You offer no solutions, so you as a council look for ways to tax us,” Hoskins said. “You’re sure kicking the can down the road and 20 years is a joke. It ought to be six months and you figure out how to find the revenue.”

Hal Bray, representing Contra Costa Taxpayers Association spoke next.

“We believe that you’re not being completely honest with the people of Antioch about the uses of the revenue from this sales tax,” he stated. “Your pension costs…will double in the next five years. We believe you’re already using tax revenue meant for other services, for pension costs.  We believe you need to put in place a plan to deal with these rising costs. Other cities have put in place plans, such as a 115 Trust and contracting out services.”

Regarding employee pension contributions Bray said, “We believe the cost should be shared 50-50” with employees paying half the cost of their pensions and the city paying the other half. “You could have $4.5 million more for services if you split the costs with your employees.”

“The average Social Security pension is $16,000. The average CalPers pension of a full-time worker is $70,000 and for public safety officer it is $104,000,” he shared. “We believe it’s unfair for the residents of Antioch, so the people can be paid five to six times what the average retiree gets paid. We are ready to meet when you are.”

Antioch Economic Development Commissioner Tim McCall offered the final public comments in favor of the measure.

“First, to Ms. Wilson and Mr. Thorpe, to all the staff who worked on this…I know you all worked very hard. I appreciate your hard work,” he said. “Mrs. Ogorchock, thank you for your conviction and sticking by it. Mayor Wright, thank for being willing to compromise. Mr. Tiscareno, thank you for standing strong on the 20-year sunset.”

“This will not unite Antioch. It is dividing Antioch. We need to pass this,” McCall stated. “Mr. Thorpe, I do agree with you that the original wording would be a feel good. But, the leaders have spoken and said they want a sunset clause. We’re just going to have to campaign harder. I will help you campaign.

“This city needs to be united. The council needs to be united tonight,” he continued. “Let’s not revisit this in nine years. There will be lots of discussion about how to spend this money. It would be a benefit to start that united.”

The council then took up the issue with Thorpe saying, “Thank you Mr. City Attorney for taking responsibility for this small mishap. I believe Councilwoman Wilson and I believe our votes, last time were symbolic…recognizing that we did work hard…and that we were standing by our work. Although we voted no, the next day we were right back at it, working hard to figure out how to pass it.”

He then made a motion to include the 20-year sunset and citizens oversight in the measure. It was seconded by Wilson and the council voted unanimously to place it on the November ballot.

The final ballot language is as follows:

Antioch’s Quality of Life Measure. To maintain Antioch’s fiscal stability, police patrols, 911 emergency response, youth violence prevention programs; ensuring water quality/safety; repairing streets; cleaning up parks/illegal dumping; restoring youth afterschool/summer programs; other essential services; shall the measure be adopted approving an ordinance to renew the sales tax at the one-cent rate, raising approximately $14,000,000 annually,  expiring in twenty years, with mandatory annual independent financial audits, and independent citizens oversight?

The election will be held on Tuesday, November 6 and the measure requires a simple majority of votes to pass.

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