Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Payton Perspective: Facing does not mean filing for or in bankruptcy, but Antioch Council needs to take action to avoid it

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Chart from city staff report presented to the Antioch City Council on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

I was informed this week that there is some confusion in the community about the City of Antioch’s finances due to the headline for an article published on the Antioch Herald website, last week.

The headline read “City Council learns Antioch again facing bankruptcy” which is accurate, based on the staff report at the Council meeting on Tuesday, April 11,2017. The chart included with the article shows that in the 2021-22 fiscal year, without the city’s half-cent sales tax Measure C being re-approved by the voters, the city’s General Fund balance will cross the line from zero dollars. Even if Measure C is renewed that financial event occurs two years later.

I have since updated the headline to reflect that bankruptcy will occur “within five years.” But, the original headline was accurate and we stand by it. Folks, let me be frank. First, you need to understand the meaning of words and their use in a sentence. Second, you have to read the article to understand what’s going on, not just the headline.

When a government agency or a business is facing bankruptcy, it doesn’t mean it has filed for or is in bankruptcy. It means it has to make some changes to avoid it.

That’s exactly what needs to be done at City Hall and they have five years to do it.

Two things have caused this. As the article states, “Antioch’s $52.7 million General Fund budget is projected to begin deficit spending by $2.6 million in July of next year due largely to increased police staffing, pay and benefit hikes for all city employees and increased payments to the California Public Employees Retirement System.” (PERS)

The recent approvals, by the previous council and the current council majority, of the city employ contracts with increases to pay and benefits will cost the city over $9 million over the next five years. Those contracts extend one year beyond the sunset of Measure C in 2021. That council majority does not include current Mayor Sean Wright and Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe who both opposed the new contracts, but couldn’t do anything to stop them once they were on the council.

PERS is now requiring cities to pay more towards the unfunded liabilities of the pensions of past employees. That’s because for years, PERS has been projecting an overly aggressive and unrealistic return on their investments, and now reality has hit them in the face. The result is each city and government agency in California has to contribute more money to PERS to make up for the difference in what they projected and what is needed to pay for the pensions of current and future retirees.

At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting on April 25, Mayor Sean Wright said “Antioch is in fine financial shape. For those who ask if we are filing for bankruptcy the answer is no.  We have $25 million in reserves with no debt.”

His second sentence is correct, as I’ve pointed out, above. Wright’s first sentence is also correct – today. But, he’s aware and we all are, now with the staff report, that just because the city has $25 million in reserves, today doesn’t mean it will be in fine financial shape, just a few years from now. Wright is also aware that action must be taken to keep the city in “fine financial shape.”

As the city staff report on April 11, and above and below charts show, that even if we vote to renew Measure C, the city’s half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2013, the city’s General Fund balance will be zero dollars in less than seven years.

City of Antioch General Fund Projection Chart from city staff report to council on 4/11/17.

If the Council doesn’t do three things over the next few years, Antioch will run out of those reserves and be upside down financially, which means bankruptcy.

First, the council needs to reopen and renegotiate the employee contracts. The City of Richmond just approved new contracts for their police and firefighters without a pay raise. (That city is facing the same financial challenges as Antioch, also because of PERS and even with a new tax increase. See related article, here.) Antioch should have done the same, at least until they had hired the 22 additional officers we were promised “immediately” in 2013 if we passed Measure C. Plus, all the other city employees enjoyed 13% in pay raises just a few years ago when the council ended Furlough Fridays. The council majority must have forgotten about that.

Message to the council majority: we didn’t give you two tax increases, including Measure O, to give pay raises to city staff. That was nowhere in the ballot language of either measure.

Second, the city needs to fulfill its promise and hire the 11 additional sworn police officers. So far, they’ve given us a net 11 additional officers out of the 22. They need to start budgeting for 111, not 102 like they’ve been doing. There were 89 sworn officers on the force when that promise was made.

That will result in crime being reduced which will help Antioch be able to attract business, as well as an increase in property values, which gives the city more tax revenue, without raising taxes.

Third, the city needs to more aggressively pursue new businesses to locate in Antioch. Now that the eBART extension and Hillcrest station will be opening next year, that area should be prime for attracting new businesses.

That will result in more sales and property tax revenue to the city, and possibly without having to either renew Measure C or increase other taxes – and to be frugal and responsible, the council needs to plan for and base their budgets on the expectation that it won’t be renewed.

The time to develop a plan to implement these three actions is now. I trust and hope that with the new leadership on the council and inside City Hall with a new city manager, it can and will be done.

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Writer shares comments to Antioch council on city’s $150 million in unfunded liabilities

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Dear Editor:

Following are the comments I made to the Antioch City Council during the budget session on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

As to the Budget Staff Report to the City Council from Director Merchant dated 11 April 2017: City Unfunded Employee Retirement at PERS

  1. Agenda Item 1 page 1 / The actual unfunded CalPERS amount is somewhere between $150,000,000.00 and $160,000,000.00.  One hundred and forty million is a low-end number.
  2. Page 2 / Measure C will sunset and will not be renewed by the voters.  The mismanagement and lack of performance will cause it to fail.  I would not vote for a renewal and would work to defeat a renewal.
  3. Page 3 / Transfers from Water and Sewer, if as stated the City is doing a new study please know that if the City of Antioch attempts to transfer funds for Police Services I will immediately file suit to stop the transfer.  The City of Antioch must stop the shell game with transfers.
  4. Page 3 / Memorandum concerning salary increases.  This never should have been approved and needs to immediately be addressed by opening renegotiation with Police and other employees.
  5. Page 4 / Contract Code Enforcement / Fines should be equal to have this break even.  There should not be a $175,000.00 deficit.
  6. Page 4 / Golf Course / The entire golf course and facility is most likely not worth more than 5 million dollars in the open market.  In fact, the value may be as low as 3 million.  But the total amount owed to the City is not in any way sufficient to affect the budget shortfalls that we are looking at in 2018 to 2021.
  7. Page 6 / Measure C /See information in item 2 above.
  8. Page 7 / Measure O/  The City still fails to collect all the money due.  We just took in three new management accounts and none of the properties were registered with the City.  From the consumer side view this is a near failure on the part of the City.
  9. Page 8 / June 30 2019 Proposed Budget.  Director Merchant states correctly that nearly 3.5Million Dollars of expenditure increase is due to Salary and CalPERS.  Looking at anything else will not correct, fix or effect the road to Municipal Bankruptcy.
  10. Page 9 / Employees need to pay 50% or more of any fees paid to CalPERS.  Additionally, the City must terminate “Defined Retirement Benefit” and move to “Defined Retirement Contribution”.

The City of Antioch has 24 months until massive negative spending begins.  Bankruptcy is no more than 24 months from that time.  You can no longer kick the can down the road.

Mark Jordan

Antioch

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Writer concerned about Antioch budget deficits, says no more taxes

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Dear Editor:

I saw a report in the Antioch Herald about future deficits in the city budget. The source of the problem is obvious. In general, public employee pay, medical benefits, and retirement have all escalated much faster than for comparable jobs in the private sector. This is a Statewide problem and must be addressed at every level of government. More tax is not the way to solve this problem.

I think it is time to take drastic steps. Do a better job of informing the citizens of Antioch that we have a problem. Only a few people will see a newspaper story. Put an insert in with the water bills. Contact every club, church and groups of every kind. Ask the Chamber of Commerce to request every business to post a prominent notice in their place of business. Refuse union demands for more and more. Stop thinking of more tax. Live within the current income.

If it takes bankruptcy to wake people up, then the City should start planning for a bankruptcy in a few years. Make every effort to balance the budget and if that fails then declare bankruptcy.

Joseph Ramus

Antioch

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Writer concerned with lack of complete Antioch crime information, sale of city owned properties

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Dear Editor:

Good morning Antioch, welcome to the socialism for which you voted. It started long ago, however it is becoming more apparent by the day. The first noticeable action occurred when the ruling class, with no input from or communication with the ruled class, decided that the ruled class really has no right to know what our police force, a force that we have no choice but to pay for, is doing in our community.

Our only source of information was the heavily edited, weekly calls for service. Be assured, crime is down, trust us, just look at the statistics. Now access to even that skewed information is being denied. Any mathematician can tell you that statistics can be skewed to give the results wanted in any given situation. Now that any other sources of information have been cut off, trust us, crime is way down. Do not trust what you hear on the streets, that is just hearsay. We will give you the true facts as we deem necessary.

Someone has a great deal of property in Antioch that they are trying to unload in the midst of a crime wave never before experienced. Someone with a great deal of influence. Someone with no conscience. Someone with only their own well-being is steering us toward their goals and our demise. Someone untouchable in their own eyes. Hmmm…I wonder who might fit this description? Come on now, do I really have to come right out and say it? Do some research or end up losing, again.

Steven Payne

Antioch

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Writer not surprised Antioch facing bankruptcy, again

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Dear Editor:

It comes as no surprise to me that the outlook for our City is bleak. I hope it does not come as surprise to you. We have known for some time now that we were spending more than we made. That we were slow on collecting monies owed the City and that we were not managing the budget in a more professional manner. There is no “single” event” that brought us to where we are today – On the Brink of Bankruptcy. It was many years for promises not kept, contracts poorly negotiated, special interests having to be placated. We saw it coming, the slow way hiring of new officers was happening, the passing of specific measures to address crime. But poorly implementing them. Increasing taxes on landlords to help our city.

But now we are down to the brass tacks. I have faith and believe there is a path through all this mess that can bring us out the other side. Cuts, slashes in retiree retirement pay, make them have to carry a larger portion of healthcare and other benefits, roll back salaries on employees. Increase fees for inspections, use fees, and some permits. Get the police number where it needs to be. It is a fairly simple solution that requires a hand implementation. 1. Save now, anyway we can. 2. Complete the police staffing. 3. Reduce our crime rate. 4 With a safer city people might want to live and spend money here and that might help us to recover. Even if we declare Bankruptcy, we still have the obligation to get our fiscal house in order. We still have to balance the budget.

We still have to settle with the claimants. We still have to pay our legal bills, and we still have to deal with our unfunded liabilities. So, running from the problem will not work. If we file, there will not a positive trusting relationship between the bankers, suppliers, vendors, employee organizations and the city management. That will just make things worse than they are.

Fred Rouse

Antioch

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Writer suggests Hawaii Congresswoman as Democrats’ choice for President in 2020

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Editor: The Democrats’ gnashing of teeth and renting of garments over the election is getting really tiresome. Instead of the constant and vociferous complaining about President Donald Trump (which achieves absolutely nothing), why not do something about it? There is plenty of time. Why not knuckle down and find a viable candidate that can win for you in 2020?

Want a woman? She’s out there. I’ve met her. Her name is Tulsi Gabbard, and she’s a Congresswoman in Hawaii’s 2nd District. She’s razor sharp smart, sincere and attractive. A political trifecta. I listened to her speak last spring when she was in Ukiah stumping for Bernie Sanders.

Her sincerity is what really impressed me. Although I didn’t agree with everything she said, this was no phony politician spouting hot air just for the sake of it. She was very candid, looked me in the eye and meant what she said. Very refreshing. She’s a rising star, that much is obvious.

Michael McInerney

Ukiah, CA

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Letter writer tired of Antioch crime, wants police to stop, question, and frisk

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Editor:

It would be so easy to say “here we go again”. But, no, I will not let my confidence in our city waiver. Events like shootings are sad, scary and vile. It is time for “Antioch Strong”. We need to pull together from the Delta to the South Hills. From the West hills to Highway 4.

I am not promoting a posse. But I am proposing a change in a way we approach these shootings. Larger cities than ours have found ways to combat these evils. We are not Chicago; we are a good community with some bad people. We are a city full of pride and are poised to take our streets back. We must do that. We must react to criminal behavior, report it quickly and advise police when things are just not right. Some of us do that. Now everyone must.

The act of prevention is the strongest deterrent to violence. Become proactive. It is not hard, even when peeking out your windows. The stop and frisk rule should be easier to implement than it is today. So that the power to stop, question, and frisk suspects, given reasonable circumstances, and to a standard that holds less than probable cause, the standard should be the standard of reasonable suspicion, a question of circumstances of each individual case and officers should determine whether reasonable detention and investigation is validated based upon knowledge of history and common sense.

I for one, want suspicious activity investigated stronger than it is today. Everyone has to pass through a metal detector before boarding an airplane, why not allow as much freedom to police on the street. I know many will feel that my view endorses an unreasonable use of power. But, is not ducking flying bullets in our town, being afraid of walking out at night very similar to the effects of war or terrorism?

I am wide open to alternatives like education, accountability, and other options. I would love to see a laundry list of options other than what I propose that can deter the violence. If I continue to write what is considered unpopular, and it sparks debate and keeps this issue in the forefront, then I am fine with my view.

I understand the position of the issue and the possible targeting those of color, and that is not what I am proposing at all. I am supporting that if the police drive by a known crack- house and they see a car parked out front, they should have a right to stop and ask those inside the car for ID. If they pass a known criminal, they should have the right to stop and question.

I am frustrated that within the last year there have been no less than five shootings, many robberies and a bunch more crimes within range of my home. I am with neighborhood watch, walk my streets, chased people for stealing (seeing me run is a funny sight) and I am just overwhelmed with all of this garbage.

What I propose is not the ideal or politically correct position, that I know. Education is the key. Giving safe options other than violence through engaging church, school, parents, and community in educating that a gun is to defend and not to attack is not working in my view. Any other ideas?

Frederick Rouse

Antioch

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Writer says we were lied to about ban on plastic shopping bags

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

Dear Editor:

The local taxpayers have been lied to, again, by big business, special interests and corrupt politicians. Save the ecology was the cry. Stop the over pollution of landfills with non-biodegradable materials they shouted. Help to save the earth was their mantra. All very noble causes, indeed.

However, when one uses these tactics just to reap a much larger profit, there is something that gnaws at the back of my mind, eats away at my common sense, irritates me to no end. They got their way by tugging at the heart strings of decent people and shaming the rest into falling in line. All done in the name of greed cleverly disguised as a god send to the ecology minded.

I am talking about plastic shopping bags and the fact that they were not banned as promised when pushing this law down our throats (like so many others).

They actually banned the retail outlets from providing these bags “free of charge”. One can get as many of these “demon bags” as one desires for a fee. Let me get this straight. I don’t get them free but I still get them, they end up in the same location and the only difference is that the consumer pays for them directly. Prices have not reflected the retailer’s gain but the profit margin certainly has. As I said, lied to again.

Thanks for listening.

Steve Payne

Antioch

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