More layoffs planned at City Hall, including police


 City Manager Jim Jakel and Councilman Brian Kalinowski discuss the budget crisis.

By Dave Roberts

There will be more fiscal bloodletting at Antioch City Hall in the coming months, including the likelihood of cutting police officers for the first time, to deal with a $3.6 million deficit. City officials are feeling an urgency to plug the budget hole in the wake of the 52-48 defeat of Measure P, the half-cent sales tax hike that was projected to bring in an extra $4 million per year.

“We really need to move on this thing sooner rather than later,” City Manager Jim Jakel told the City Council Tuesday night. “The burn rate right now is $300,000 a month. So we are spending $300,000 a month more than we have got. It will cost people their jobs literally if we don’t make changes. Ultimately, that may be the changes that are made. The way I look at it, $300,000 a month is $10,000 a day. I can do it by hour if you’d like. That’s what keeps me up at night now. We need to move post-haste.”

A special council meeting will be held at City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 30 to deal with the deficit in a city budget that has already reduced spending by $13 million in recent years. Overall city staff has been cut 31 percent from 400 employees in 2007 to the current 275 – the staff funded through the General Fund has decreased 47.5 percent.

Antioch's thin blue line may be getting thinner

As a result, the city no longer provides code enforcement, traffic enforcement, school resource officers, gang suppression, truancy enforcement, adopt-a-family at Christmas, car seat inspections, prostitution stings, juvenile alcohol decoys, monthly neighborhood cleanups, and the Fourth of July and other celebrations and parades, among other services. In addition, City Hall remains closed every Friday and it’s difficult to reach anyone by phone when it’s open.

“I have been getting a lot of calls and comments from members of the public about the inability reach someone at City Hall,” Mayor Jim Davis said to Jakel. “They call at all hours of the day and they get no answer or they get a voice mail. We know that staffing is drastically reduced.” He suggested providing volunteers to answer phones at City Hall, which Jakel said would be worth exploring.

Jakel said the bigger issue to be decided on Nov. 30 is how best to make the cuts. Should the council decide which additional city services will be cut, or should the city manager order the departments to proportionately reduce their budgets by a total of $300,000 per month?

The first option allows the council to make sure that the police department, which makes up two-thirds of the General Fund budget, is not hit as hard as other areas. They could do so by focusing the cuts in areas such as public works, recreation, Prewett Water Park and animal services.

The second option, to spread the pain equally, could result in the layoff of police officers. Thus far, police officer positions have been spared the budget-cutting axe. But vacant positions remain unfilled and all 20 community service officers have been laid off, resulting in a thinning of the thin blue line.

Police Chief Jim Hyde anticipates a 37 percent vacancy rate in police department staffing by January, which could increase to 42 percent if one to 10 officers are laid off. “That’s the reality that we are all facing, local government, in California,” said Hyde at the Oct. 26 council meeting.

With fewer officers on the streets, the response times to emergency calls have increased and arrests are down because officers arrive later to the crime scene, according to Hyde. While arrests and police staffing decrease, crime has increased 6.2 percent in the past year. The good news is that violent crime is down 2.7 percent; the bad news is property crime has soared 9.2 percent.

“We are seeing a slippage in effectiveness of the work force to manage the calls for service,” said Hyde.

Whether police positions are cut – and how many – has yet to be decided. But Councilman Brian Kalinowski said police and other staffing cuts are coming – and the sooner the better.

“Quite frankly, armchair quarterbacking some of this stuff, we should have done it in July,” said Kalinowski. “We should have just cut all of that stuff in July. But I think everybody was hoping that if we held everything together as long as we can, things would work out differently. And they didn’t. As the city manager articulated, we are burning $3.6 million a year that we don’t have.

“And by June we are done if we don’t do something sooner rather than later. I hope (the Nov. 30 meeting) allows the council to render a decision that will provide a clear enough decision that things start happening. If we wait to start doing this stuff in January and the layoffs that occur require a 30-day notice, (then) we start getting into March and we start cutting $600,000 or 700,000 a month. So the cuts get even worse.”

Kalinowski also proposed that the council consider in January implementing a temporary moratorium on new home construction in Antioch.

“Based on the foreclosure crisis nationwide, Antioch, California in its over-development of the community, is ground zero for the impacts,” he said. “Based on the sales of homes in this community and the property tax that is returned to this community at those price points, every new residential unit built in this community is a direct drain on the existing lack of funds we currently have. I know there’s a belief that if you build a gazillion roof tops everything else will follow. I guess it’s a long follow. That’s an issue, since we will have new members for council, to make policy direction on sooner rather than later.”

Councilman-elect Wade Harper and prospective Councilman-elect Gary Agopian, who holds a narrow lead over Arne Simonsen, were in the audience but did not speak. Council members Reggie Moore and Martha Parsons, who failed to win re-election, did not have much to say concerning the city’s fiscal crisis.

Allen Payton, a former city councilman and current Antioch Herald publisher, had several requests for the council’s Nov. 30 budget meeting.I would ask that staff come forward with a list of cuts that will be out there on the website so the public can see that and be talking among ourselves,” he said. “There has to be a different format than normal. There has got to be some dialogue and questions we can ask that night from the public. New ideas may come up. We expect answers that night.”

At the Oct. 26 meeting after Hyde’s sobering presentation, Davis said, “The public needs to know where we are at and headed. Our first charge is public safety. I want to make sure the public is safe and the police officers are safe. Its very concerning.”

In other council news:

  • Barbara Solbavarro, president of Friends of Animal Services, said 17 dogs and one cat were adopted in October and requested that the shelter be opened on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in order to give the animals turkey treats.
  • The Third Annual Veterans Day Parade will be held in downtown Antioch on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. About 10,000 people watched the parade last year, according to Davis, and as many are expected this year as well.
  • Kalinowski said he would not be attending the Highway 4 Bypass Authority meeting on Veterans Day.
  • Davis asked that the council look into whether Roger’s Point should be renamed Smith’s Point after Antioch’s founder William Smith.
  • A task force will be targeting Antioch liquor stores that sell alcohol to minors or violate other liquor-related regulations.

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2 Comments to “More layoffs planned at City Hall, including police”

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