CONCORD -- With a half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot, Concord has been publicizing its fiscal woes: A $23 million decline in revenue, $18 million in cuts made already and a remaining deficit of $5 million.

The numbers add up, but they belie a more complicated picture. City revenues peaked at $76.7 million in the 2006-07 fiscal year and have since dropped to about $66 million. That's a decline of about $11 million -- not the $23 million the city has cited publicly.

The $23 million figure represents something different. In 2008, the city projected it would bring in nearly $89 million in 2011. Now, that projection for 2011 is about $66 million.

The differing figures are a product of the city's unusual 10-year budget planning, the continued rise of costs beyond the city's control and the unexpected depth of the recession.

In addition, the numbers reflect city officials' focus on long-term solvency as they struggled to plan one round of cuts after another in an economy where each new financial projection has been worse than the last.

No matter how the multiyear numbers are stated, the reality for next year is the same: By June, the city must either find new revenue, such as the sales tax measure, or make another $5 million in cuts. Those would include laying off police officers and public works employees, City Manager Dan Keen said.


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The city has exhausted virtually all of its reserves, and spending still outpaces revenue by $5 million.

"We have to get to what is a balanced budget by the beginning of next year or we're going to rapidly run out of reserves next year," Keen said.

An earlier version of the city's website about the Measure Q sales tax proposal said, "City revenues are down $23 million over the past three years."

After a Bay Area News Group reporter asked about that figure, the city changed its website. It now reads, "State take-aways and the current recession have resulted in a $23 million decline in City revenues."

The earlier version was incorrect, Keen said.

The reworded version still refers to the decline as compared with the earlier revenue projection, without explicitly stating it.

If Measure Q passes, Concord's sales tax will rise 0.5 percent to 9.75 percent. The new tax would bring in about $8 million to $10 million per year for five years. In the city's 10-year budget plan, about half of the new tax revenue would be saved into reserves and spent after the tax expires in 2016.

A sales tax increase requires approval by a 50 percent majority vote.

Using projections to calculate revenue decline is misleading, said Richard Soderholm, a Concord resident who signed the official argument against Measure Q with the Contra Costa election division.

"It's absolutely meaningless," he said of the city's revenue decline numbers based on projections. But he said he was used to it, since governments in California frequently use what he calls "bogus" accounting.

Keen said the $23 million figure is the best representation of the gap faced by the city.

"Because we budget on a 10-year model, and because we continually update that model, we can say 'OK, a year from now "... we're going to be about $23 million less than where we were three years prior,' " Keen said. If the city had not made cuts, he said, it would be facing a $23 million deficit.

Though the city has made $18 million in cuts since 2008, other costs outside the city's control continued to rise, including utility bills and fees from county and state government agencies. Police officers, who were in the middle of a contract, also continued to receive raises until this year.

But even adding up the value of cuts over the three-year period is not simple. The $18 million figure represents the value of each cut and union concession on an annual basis.

So on one hand, it includes the value of raises the city had not yet given police officers for this coming year -- raises that officers gave up as a union concession.

However, it also only counts each reduction in the first year it takes effect. For example, the city's largest non-police union, Local 1, took a 5 percent pay cut last year, saving the city $700,000 per year. That pay cut continues this year, in addition to new concessions -- but the $700,000 only counts once because it is no longer a new reduction for this year.

Contact Paul Thissen at 925-943-8163. Follow him at Twitter.com/pthissen.

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