ANTIOCH -- Citing the need to boost police and code enforcement staffing, leaders here have called for a special election in November.
Voters will be asked to consider a half-cent sales tax increase that would raise Antioch's sales tax to 9 cents per dollar, generating about $4.7 million for city coffers annually.
The tax would last seven years, be subject to a yearly audit, and a committee of seven residents would ensure that the city spends the revenue as intended.
However, the City Council this week voted against placing a second tax measure on the ballot that would have applied to residential landlords.
"We must give the voters the opportunity to decide which direction this city will go," Councilman Gary Agopian said about the sales tax. In the unanimous vote, the council also declared that Antioch is in the midst of a "fiscal emergency" and that there is a great need for voters to consider the measure this year.
After falling from $47 million in 2007, Antioch's revenue has stabilized at about $36.2 million. The city's budget for 2013-14 includes a projected deficit of $3.6 million -- and that doesn't include the restoration of any services.
It would cost about $7 million to return the police department to its pre-recession level of 126 sworn officers, full complement of nonsworn officers and additional vehicles and equipment fees.
"When you live in a town and watch it fall apart, there comes a point when we are either all in this together or all on our own," said resident Mark Jordan, a real estate agent.
He calls the tax a "relatively small sacrifice."
Norma Hernandez, a former councilwoman and sales tax opponent, said that people are struggling to buy groceries and pay bills.
"The only one you're going to hurt is the working man who can't survive," she said.
Shortly after calling for the sales tax measure, the council opted not to pursue a landlord business license tax of $240 per year for owners of 1 to 25 rental units, $125 for owners of 26 to 50 units, $75 for 51 to 150 units, and $50 for owners with more than 150 units.
Mayor Wade Harper, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha and Councilman Tony Tiscareno voted against the measure. A unanimous vote was required to put it on the November ballot, City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said.
The grass roots civic group Friday Morning Breakfast Club had proposed the tax and presented the city with a petition from residents.
The California Apartment Association opposed the tax on behalf of its Antioch members.
Theresa Karr, executive director of the group's Contra Costa chapter, said imposing a new tax on one type of business for services that benefit everyone is unfair and invited a legal challenge.
Rocha said she wanted to give rental owners and the city more time to come up with a solution given that Antioch has a rental inspection program and fees already on the books.
Expressing her pleasure with the council's decision, Karr said she was open to talking with the city about finding a "fair and equitable" solution.
Tiscareno and Harper both said the likelihood of the sales tax succeeding would diminish if the landlord tax measure were also on the ballot.
An April survey of 400 registered voters found that 68 percent definitely or probably would vote for the sales tax. If both were on the ballot, however, only 26 percent would approve both measures, and 31 percent would endorse the sales tax.
Breakfast Club members said Wednesday they plan on resubmitting a petition with the tiered fee formula and speaking to community groups to garner support. They would wait until after the election to gather signatures with hopes of putting it on the November 2014 ballot.
The council indicated Tuesday that if it couldn't reach an agreement with apartment owners it should consider the landlord tax for next year.
Antioch will spend about $204,000 to put the sales tax measure on the ballot.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.