Antioch Council to continue spending same amount, but not from police budget
By Dave Roberts
When 68% of Antioch voters approved the Measure C half-cent sales tax hike in 2013, the ballot measure said the money would be used to hire 22 more police, plus code enforcement officers as well as help economic development and job creation. The ballot wording didn’t mention that the money would also be used for city government administration, but that’s where more than $1 million of Measure C funds is being spent.
The sales tax had raised $13.3 million as of June 30, 2016. This has provided for the hiring of nine additional police officers and filling more than a half-dozen community service officer and code enforcement positions.
But not all of that money is devoted to public safety salaries and benefits. About 8% goes to what the city budget refers to as “internal services.” Nearly half of internal services revenue goes to the city finance department to provide payroll, accounting and purchasing services. The rest is divided among other city departments, including the city manager, attorney, clerk, human resources, city council and facilities maintenance.
The share of Measure C money going to administrative overhead for the police department has increased from 7.1% two years ago to 8.5% last year and 8% in the current fiscal year. Citywide the percentage budgeted for internal services has grown from 5.6% in 2012 to 6.3% from 2013-15 to 7.8% in 2016 and to 8.1% in 2017. The percentages are based on a formula in the city’s Cost Allocation Plan, which was adopted in 2005, and the growth in the internal services departments.
The increased cost of administration, particularly paid for with Measure C funds, created concerns at last week’s City Council meeting. Sal Sbranti, a former member of the Measure C Citizens Oversight Committee, acknowledged to the council that Measure C funds can be used for administration, but he questioned whether city administrators are taking advantage of the increased sales tax funding for public safety to beef up their own departments.
“The question deserves to be asked as to why this [administrative] allocation continues to rise at such a rate,” he said. “Every year the amount going to citywide administration goes up regardless of whether it meets Measure C guidelines or not. The committee formal report stated that due to the way the city budgets the police department for Measure C, the committee has some concerns as to whether all Measure C monies are being properly utilized to meet the objective of this measure.
“We the citizens of Antioch voted for Measure C to reduce crime, increase code enforcement, reduce 911 response times and to minimize blight. What do we get? More money spent on HR, city manager’s office, city council, city attorney – just amazing. In the last six years citywide administration has gone from $1.44 million to $3.152 million. That’s you guys approving a budget. You approved them to double their budget in six years. In the same period of time the police department only went up 52%. So who’s putting the control on citywide administration, HR, all those functions?
“Measure C is to take care of the crime in the city of Antioch. If we continue to spend money on HR, finance, the attorney and other citywide administration, at the end of the Measure C sunset [in 2021] we’ll not have the money to continue with the number of police that we have. They should not be taking Measure C money to do this. That was not what the City Council told us they were going to do. That is not what we voted on.”
Sbranti’s concerns were shared by several council members.
“I understand the Cost Allocation Plan, I understand the purpose of it,” said Mayor Sean Wright. “As somebody who worked on Measure C to help get it passed, I also understand the consternation of watching Measure C money get spent on other sources that are not helping to directly improve the safety of our community.”
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, who had asked that the issue be placed on the council agenda, shared the mayor’s understandings and suggested two budgeting options.
“I asked for Measure C just to go toward these officers,” she said, “and the other one was to just flat out remove the Measure C cost allocation of the citywide administration fee. Or to keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it. I do trust that [city administrators are] doing it correctly and that the percentage has not changed. I understand the math where if the funds go up, the amount is going to go up. It does make sense. I do understand what people are saying the [administration] funds should not come out of Measure C funds. I have agreed with that.”
Also concerned was Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe who questioned why administrative costs had risen so much when the police department only had a net increase of less than a dozen police officers.
City Finance Director Dawn Merchant responded, “The police department has the largest share of employees of any department in the city. So we spend more resources with police department payroll versus other departments. It’s not just payroll. We pay accounts payable invoices, any money they collect we do the billing. There are a wide variety of services that finance does.”
Thorpe was skeptical, asking “For 10 additional people?”
Merchant responded, “It’s not just 10 additional people. It’s in total for the entire police department.”
City Manager Steven Duran jumped in, saying, “It doesn’t matter if there’s 10 additional people or 10 less people. The pie that’s divided is the cost of internal services. And the formula is the Cost Allocation Plan. Whether Measure C ever existed or not, the formula stays the same. So it’s nothing that anybody does except apply the math that’s in the plan. It doesn’t matter how many hires we’ve had.
“I think one of the things that some of the detractors have been emphasizing is how much it went up since 2012. That’s because when there were layoffs and furloughs prior to that, it went down. So, for instance, the city attorney has been sharing half of an administrative person and gone without a legal secretary for several years. In this year we budgeted for a legal secretary, therefore the city attorney’s budget is going up. Therefore every other department that pays internal services, they are going to pay a little more for the city attorney – police department, water, sewer, everyone. The formula doesn’t change, and it doesn’t matter what the other departments are doing or how many they have added.”
Thorpe seemed mollified, but he took exception to Duran’s characterization of the people concerned about Measure C money going to escalating administration.
“I hear you and I hear the point that if they hired no police officers and I guess if they had no additional invoices to process, it would still be the same,” said Thorpe. “I was trying to figure out how the formula [came to be] and who decided the percentage. And you’re telling me that it’s a formula that already exists, so I’m understanding that.
“I just have to point out that these are not detractors, Mr. City Manager. These are residents who have concerns, and they bring those concerns to us. So we have to take those concerns seriously. So if it frustrates you that we ask these questions, I’m sorry. But we are going to ask these questions. So I want to make clear that there are people who have concerns out there. I ask these questions to be open and transparent so that folks understand what the process is.
“So now I understand that there’s a formula. Whether it should be applied to Measure C is a starting point that I would like to discuss. Because that seems to be a concern that residents have.”
To address that concern, Wright made a motion that was unanimously passed by the council to direct Merchant to not include the administrative cost charges in the Measure C budget.
Merchant told the council that the administrative overhead would instead be shown to come out of the general fund budget, but the money being spent on administration in the overall budget would remain the same. “The expenditure is going to be there,” she said. “It’s just whether we say it’s a part of the equation for Measure C.”
Councilman Tony Tiscareno echoed Merchant, saying, “I want to make it clear that the public needs to know that there isn’t going to be a difference in cost allocation. It’s going to be the same. It’s coming from one column to another column. The reason I didn’t question the Measure C cost allocation at the time is because it was transparent to me, I saw firsthand where the money was going, knowing the money was being spent like it was supposed to be spent. We wanted to use it for hiring police and code enforcement. And I think we’ve done so.
“But we need to be transparent about all our expenditures where the money goes. This just makes it a little simpler for me to view it. But for folks that believe that this may help extend Measure C, I’ll play. But it’s still money being spent that has to be spent.”
The council is scheduled to begin reviewing the 2017-19 budget in April and to adopt it by July.