On Tuesday during a special meeting of the Antioch City Council, the council voted to move forward with placing a 1% sales tax proposal on the November ballot.
UPDATE/Correction – based on a 2/3 requirement of the ordinance, therefore the City Council will be holding another special meeting on Thursday, August 9, 2018. For this to actually end up on the ballot, either Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe or Councilwoman Monica Wilson will need to flip their vote from a “no” to a “yes”. The oversight was released by Antioch City Clerk Arne Simonsen at 5:42 pm announcing the special meeting. The error was caught when they were ready to file the paperwork.
By way of a 3-2 vote, the council will be asking its residents for a 1% sales tax over a period of 20-years (sunset) which includes a citizens oversight committee. The tax is aimed to replace Measure C and raise an estimated $14 million per year into the general fund while continuing to fund police and code enforcement services, along with maintaining other city functions.
The proposal was originally brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and Councilmember Monica Wilson who wanted a 1% sales tax in perpetuity until voters decided through an initiative process to stop it. Their proposal also did not include language to continue an oversight committee and actually removed it.
It also came out at the July 31 meeting that the City Council was looking at this tax to help sustain itself by 2025 when the city is anticipated to run out of money.
Attorney Derek Cole explained that the tax, if approved, would begin on April 1, 2019 to allow businesses to adjust to the new rate. The seven-member citizens oversight committee would still exist. Measure C would be repealed and replaced with this new proposal.
Thorpe stated as the sub-committee, he could not support the plan.
“We cannot support this 20-year idea because we have not done appropriate polling,” stated Thorpe. “When we got the word it polled overwhelmingly from our vantage point there was no reason to do a follow up poll with a variety of questions regarding a sunset because people were fine with it so I will not be supporting a 20-year sunset.”
During Public Comments, Antioch resident Marty Fernandez questioned the water quality.
“Wasn’t that why our water bills went up last month? I thought that was the excuse. Just last month you were going to give a city employee a $20,000 a year raise. With thinking like that, this resolution is not going to be enough. You five have to face reality, I hope you heard Mr. Jordan at the last meeting, you have not mentioned once unfunded liability for the pension and medical. This council should reach out to professional business people to come up with a long-term financial plan, not just hope everything will be okay like its done for many years,” said Fernandez. “Dawn Merchant has been telling you for five-years that you are going to run out of money and you don’t have the revenue. What is next in six-years when you are out of money again? There is no plan. What happens if this ballot measure doesn’t pass? Do you have a plan? You guys are just floundering. You are in such a rush to get this done, now you are going to change it again to not 20-years. There is no planning here.”
Councilwoman Monica Wilson reflected on the years’ worth of work.
“I to have a problem with the changing of the language, especially with the term because it polled very well until the voters ended it so I am really struggling to support anything other than that,” said Wilson. “I am going to support until ended by voters and I’ve been saying that all along.”
Councilman Tony Tiscareno explained had it been a true extension of Measure C, he would have talked about a shorter sunset but they can’t go “under water” on what they have now.
“I wasn’t opposed to any sunset, but we have to be held accounted to at some point and there is always an ending point,” said Tiscareno. “We can’t just rely on this particular measure to sustain us and Mr. Fernandez is correct, and we are going to have to do a lot of different things to bring more revenue sources to Antioch.”
Tiscareno further highlighted he hoped they could be a unified council but didn’t see that happening after they held three meetings on the language to put out to voters.
“To change it again would show our inability to get things done and we are just kicking the can down the road by just changing language,” said Tiscareno. “After the third meeting, we set some language and I’d like to stick by it.”
Ogorchock stated polling is not always accurate and believed the new language will work and the 20-year sunset will work.
“Even though they asked the questions, I don’t think they know the community like we know the community and I feel the measure the way it’s written is good with me,” said Ogorchock. “I will keep saying this, had they brought it to us in June so this council could properly vet this we wouldn’t be here today. There were some mistakes that were caught thank goodness, I think we need to move down the path and get past this point.”
Mayor Sean Wright called it an interesting place the council was in, but the most important thing was that the measure passes.
“I have over the last two weeks had thought long and hard and I am fine with the sunset, I am fine moving to the 9-year sunset if that gives us a sunset and allows it to pass,” said Wright.
Wright explained he received an email from the consultant and that having a 20-year sunset, in the public’s mind it would read as too long and that letting the voters end it when they want, the average voter feels more at piece by that. He said her other recommendation as to move it to single digits and move it to 9-years.
“It sounds like I am the only one who is for moving it to the 9-year sunset category from the point of making sure there is a sunset and making sure the language is such so we can pass,” said Wright.
Ogorchock responded by saying when they did Measure C, Wright was with the Chamber of Commerce and it would have passed with a 10-year sunset with a double-digit number.
“If we go back one more time, I don’t even want to say what people will think about the council,” said Ogorchock.
Thorpe stated they voted for the 20-year sunset to play-ball with the council but cautioned the note from their pollster.
“It’s dangerous to go back to a poll from 6-years ago dealing with Measure C,” said Thorpe. “Opinions change over time. What we gathered was an opinion from the beginning of this year and most recently and so it was consistent with what we originally poll. It’s dangerous to go down a route that we are not very clear about in terms of the sunset.”
Tiscareno said a 9-year isn’t going to work even though he understood the polling and how it all works.
“I am struggling to understand why we have to go through this again in 6-years when we are doing this 3-years prior to the sunset of Measure C,” said Tiscareno. “That is not very long from now and we are going to have the same people, same opinions, and go through the same in 6-years and that is not worth our time for 1 penny per $1 dollar.”
Tiscareno said he was going to stick with his 20-year sunset because there needed to be an ending point.
Wright stated he was not opposed to 20-years, but was trying to work with their consultant and the thoughts she had with trying to pass this.
Thorpe implored his council to move to the language of “until voters decide” because it would help them get the win in November.
“What we presented as an ad-hoc committee we presented which had guardrails even if we were united, we were pretty confident it would pass by the voters,” said Thorpe explaining their was no point to a sunset because the voters, by way of polling, were giving them the green light until voters decided they didn’t want the tax anymore.
City Clerk Arne Simonsen clarified the language by Thorpe was “by until voters decide” is called the initiative process and that with the language on the sunset you didn’t have to include any language in there because the citizens by initiative can overturn any ordinance.
“As city clerk, I have a concern that two members of the council have mentioned an email they received from a polling firm to which the public has not been made aware and I do need a copy of that for the record when you do receive something like that which is going to be mentioned at council,” said Simonsen. “It is very important that you get a copy to the city clerks office so copies can be made available to the public.”
Wright explained the City Manager read most of it into record.
Simonsen replied that they still needed it for the record.
Tiscareno then brought it back to the polling saying the question was not asked regarding a sunset.
“We don’t know what kind of reaction we would have gotten,” said Tiscareno. “That question wasn’t asked here for the city residents of Antioch so if that question was asked and we had some kind of an idea, it should have been asked during survey time… I don’t think we would have this discussion right now but it wasn’t asked. I believe in the good people of our city of Antioch that they want to do the right thing, they passed Measure C, and if it had been specific, we would have gotten the 2/3 majority.”
He continued saying he felt residents will see the need to maintain services with the police department, they see the blight that needed to be taken care of.
Wright said if they were going to with either a 20-year sunset or none, he was in favor of the 20-year.
Ogorchock then made the motion to move forward with a 1% sales tax which included a citizens advisory committee and 20-year sunset. It was seconded by Tiscareno.
Wilson stated she believed this measure needed to go on the ballot and disagreed with the 20-years explaining while the pollster doesn’t know the community, she surveyed the community and the community made the comments.
“I support the Measure, but I just cannot support this 20-years,” said Wilson.
Thorpe called it disappointing.
“It’s disappointing that after a year and a half of work not only of myself, but councilwoman Wilson and our department heads… working tirelessly to come up with a ballot measure that had guardrails in it to ensure that we pass something, that we came to consensus with the community that after all that work that it is going to be thrown out the window,” explained Thorpe.
He further explained that the city manager went out and brought them an expert in California because he knew he had a mandate from this council to come back with a strong recommendation and the council was throwing it out the window after they even got feedback from the community.
“We are saying that, that time and effort people put into that is just going out the window. I am just beyond disbelief and disgust that we have come to this point. I can only shake my head at the level of foolishness that we are about to enter in,” said Thorpe. “We are endangering our ballot measure for no good reason. There is no good reason other than trying to people please when the people who we were trying to please were people participating in the survey and in our feedback forms.”
Thorpe also expressed is disappointment in the City Clerk.
“I am also disappointed in the City Clerk, you have done some of the undermining in our efforts and I am very disappointed in that as well,” said Thorpe.
Tiscareno stated he had to respectfully disagree with Thorpe and believed they can get this passed because they have all the components in it.
“You guys did a tremendous job no doubt about that. You did your surveys, went out to the public and talked to everybody. You had discussions with staff and I truly believe everything you had worked on is being put forth into this initiative,” said Tiscareno. “The sunset was not discussed, if it was discussed, we would all have some better idea. I am not banking on a sunset for getting this initiative thrown away by the voters, I believe if its marketing correctly and people push it… I think we all want to get the sales tax measure passed, if we lose this, I will take responsibility, I have no problem with that.”
He stated that if this fails because of a sunset then he had failed his police department and the community doesn’t deserve that but didn’t believe the community saw it that way and said the community would see it as an extension of Measure C to protect the police department.
Wright stated it was unfair to reprimand the council for not listening to the ad-hoc committee.
“The ad-hoc committee is asked to do work and bring it back to council and the council then deliberates about that and not to blindly follow,” said wright. “You may disagree with that but to have something put in front of me and given three days to think about and discuss on something that had been worked on for the last 9-months is a little unfair to council. To then say blindly do this and trust us because we have done the work without us to have the same amount of time or opportunity to discuss, I think the last two weeks have given us an opportunity to be able to look and discuss and council has come to a realization and understanding what some of our constituents have asked us for. They have asked for continued oversight of this. They have asked us for a sunset.”
Wright suggested if they can get more people behind this that it had a better chance of passing.
“The truth is, there is not one person out in the community who will come and yell at me because we have added a sunset on this,” said Wright. “Nobody is going to go, you shouldn’t have put a sunset on this. Nobody is going to yell at me because I put oversight on this.”
Wright said even though it wasn’t polled, it would have been nice to have polling regarding a sunset.
The council then voted 3-2 with Thorpe and Wilson dissenting.