In a report to Council dated May 7th, Jim Jakel, City Manager and Lynn Tracy Nerland, City Attorney state that staff has recommended Council place a one half cent sales tax measure on the November 2013 ballot with a 10 year sunset, subject to annual independent audit and a Citizens’ Oversight Committee.
According to a recent Antioch voter survey the measure would read “RESTORING CITY SERVICES SALES TAX. To fund all city services including increasing police staffing, improving neighborhood police patrols and 911 emergency response, fixing potholes and maintaining local streets, sidewalks and medians, restoring code enforcement and cleaning up abandoned property. Shall the City of Antioch adopt a (SAMPLE) one-half cent (SAMPLE B) three-quarter cent sales tax, expiring in ten years, with mandatory annual audits and independent citizens’ oversight, and for local Antioch use only?”
The argument for the ballot measure is that the city is operating at a 40% staffing reduction (resulting in an increase in the City’s overall Part 1 crime and a decrease in code enforcement services), is experiencing decreasing management salaries and employee work hours through furloughs and reduced overtime, increased employee contributions towards retirement costs and drastically reduced medical after retirement benefits for new employees, eliminated employee cost of living increases for the period of 2009 to 2011, reducing supply and equipment costs and deferring vehicle and equipment maintenance and reducing funding and services at the Animal Shelter and Recreation programs.
Although the Fiscal Year 2012/13 budget may close in the black, next year the City is projected to spend $3.6M more than it is receiving in revenues, forcing the City to tap reserves. The deficit spending is projected to increase to $4.7M in Fiscal Year 2015, resulting in almost no reserves/no fund balance. (The Government Finance Officers Association recommends have a fund balance equal to at lease two months worth of operating expenditure.)
In actuality, the City is contemplating putting two revenue measures on the November 2013 ballot, a sales tax and a business license tax for residential rental properties. The report to Council states that the measures would be general tax measures whose passage could create additional funding to the Council’s stated priorities of public safety, community beautification/code enforcement and economic development.
I see a few problems with the sales tax measure. First is that a telephone survey of Antioch voters states the most important problem facing Antioch today is crime/drugs/violence and that respondents feel less safe than they did two years ago. A general tax measure, which only requires a majority vote, does not assure that the revenue will be spent on public safety. That folks is exactly why a City of Antioch sales tax measure failed to pass in 2010.
Nor is a sales tax increase likely to increase sales tax revenues in Antioch. In fact, just the opposite. Folks won’t “shop Antioch” if it costs more to do so. That’s just common sense.