On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council will decide whether to ask voters this November to continue to support the Antioch Police Department and then some.
Under the proposal, with little details or explanation, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and Councilwoman Monica Wilson, whom neither are up for election this year, crafted a 1% Sales Tax Measure through the Quality of Life Ad-Hoc Committee that would generate an estimated $14 million in annual revenue that would be placed in the general fund.
Instead, it attempts to leverage maintaining police services by extending Measure C while adding roughly $2 million more to the police department.
Of the $14 million in estimated generated revenue, its anticipated $8.4 million would go to police and code enforcement while $2.8 million would go towards Youth Support Services and $2.8 million to quality of life such as water quality and road repairs. Realistically, $2.8 million on roads and water isn’t going to go very far.
Of course, since these funds are headed into the General Fund, the council can spend $14 million on whatever they please so the public should not get hung up on the percentages outlined in the proposal which fails to spell out in any detail what exactly the funds would be used for. Essentially, its open-ended and open for interpretation.
Sadly, the police department is being used as the bait by Thorpe and Wilson.
Unlike Measure C, where all the funds were promised to police services and code enforcement which allowed the community to rally behind a common goal of improving safety, this version coerces the community into funding pet projects.
Ironically, youth services has become a “buzzword” lately for Thorpe since recently being hired by the non-profit First Five Contra Costa County while becoming openly critical of the Antioch Unified School District—apparently, his solution is raising taxes to fund similar programs the AUSD already has.
The proposal also strong-arms Mayor Sean Wright and Councilmembers Lori Ogorchock and Tony Tiscareno into approving the plan because there simply is not enough time to re-visit an adjusted version for the 2018 election. Instead, any extension of Measure C or Sales Tax measure would then fall to 2020 when all four council positions are up, as well as the mayor. It also forces Mayor Wright to flip-flop on his stance 4-years ago as Antioch Chamber CEO as this is a 1% proposal without a sunset.
I suspect both Thorpe and Wilson are okay going for a big ask and if it fails, try again with a smaller proposal in 2020—that is a big risk and could cause voter fatigue, especially in a presidential election year with all the other tax measures likely to hit the ballot.
Going back to the Fall Survey, this proposal looks even worse because maintaining 911 Emergency Services was at 91% of peoples top priorities. Meanwhile, recreation activities, roads and parks all scored under 55%. One should question why they are looking to divert Sales Tax monies away from Police.
One should question the intent of a silly proposal like this from two sitting councilmembers which fails to address the major concern of residents which continues to be crime and blight—Measure C helped, but it was never going to be enough to make a huge dent.
If you recall, back in 2013, the Antioch City Council was attempting to address crime and blight by placing a tax that would generate enough revenue to bring Antioch Police staffing somewhere between 124-to-144 officers—this was the initial discussion.
After realizing they couldn’t hit a number between 124-to-144 officers they went for a smaller ask. Remember, it was the self-serving efforts of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce that forced the Council cave and the city ended up with a modest Measure C of 0.5% tax with a 7-year sunset as opposed to going all-in and solving the problem then.
Here we are 5-years later, and crime is still a major issue and the city is as blight filled as ever. They also have failed to reach 102 cop staffing level in Measure C thanks to attrition and are currently hovering around 95 officers.
What Wright, Ogorchock and Tiscareno should all do is kill this self-serving tax hike proposal by Thorpe and Wilson and amend it to simply extend Measure C. By doing that, it allows Measure C to be extended with two attempts. Or, do what the Council was to reluctant to do 5-years ago which is put the entire pot of a 1% sales tax increase towards police services and code enforcement.
A solution like that would solve a majority of problems in Antioch in terms of crime, blight and reputation—those two issues that are not going away anytime soon regardless of how much funds Antioch wishes to spend on branding and marketing. Fixing problems will change the tone of the city, not put lipstick on a pig.
Furthermore, Antioch recently approved “cannabis zones” so its unclear what positives or negatives will be brought to the city. If revenue is as high as they project, then that funding could go to youth services or quality of life issues.
Finally, one of the most important components of a proposal like this is missing–would the Antioch Police Officers Association even support it? Without their buy-in, this tax is going nowhere so that should have been the first place they floated the plan to before placing it on an agenda. The word I got Friday from them was they were “surprised”.
Ultimately, this poorly crafted Sales Tax Proposal in its current form is not only a slap in the face to the police department, but a slap in the face to the public. Its self-serving, funds pet projects and strong-arms the public into a damned if you do, dammed if you don’t stance.
If Thorpe and Wilson are serious about a 1% Sales Tax increase, they should seek greatness with the results by attacking the major problems in Antioch, not work to maintain and ensure mediocrity for years to come in the form of low police staffing levels.
Wright, Ogorchock and Tiscareno have a chance to do the right thing Tuesday which is reject this proposal and instead put out something the entire community can get behind.
The last thing Antioch needs is another reduction in police services and a department of just 82-cops on the streets and that is where they are headed if silly proposals like this are put out to the public.
Simply put, this proposal is a non-starter!