ANTIOCH -- Before the first halfpenny of a voter-approved sales tax for public safety has even been collected, some residents are questioning whether the money raised will yield as many new police officers as was promised during the election campaign.

Measure C, a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax approved by 68 percent of Antioch voters in November to battle crime and clean up blight starts Tuesday. The tax, which will increase the total sales tax rate in the city to 9 cents per dollar, is projected to bring in about $4.5 million next fiscal year.

During the campaign, supporters boasted via mailers and phone calls that the funds would pay to hire 22 police officers. But the city's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 falls short of that goal.

The spending plan calls for increasing the number of sworn officers from 87 to 97 by July 1, and 100 the year after that -- below the current authorization for 102 sworn officers.

That's where the confusion started.

New City Manager Steve Duran explains that the proposed budget uses the past fiscal year as a "starting point" and excludes unfunded staff positions. For police, that baseline staffing level is set in the mid-80s, he said.

"We're budgeting what we think we can really afford for the full year," Duran said.

The change was "confusing and caught people off-guard," said Mayor Wade Harper at a study session Tuesday, reiterating that all Measure C money is going exclusively toward police and code enforcement.

The numbers surprised many, including entrenched campaign supporters, who assumed it would boost the department to 124 sworn officers. Crime Prevention Commissioner Bill Cook said he's heard 102 as the baseline number of sworn officers that the sales tax would supplement at City Council and Coffee with the Cops meetings for the past two years, meaning the force would grow to 124 with the new tax.

"During the whole time I campaigned, I said 124, and no one argued with me," said Martha Parsons, a member of the Citizens for a Safe Antioch committee. "Even if my belief is wrong, the math is not there."

"The reason we even asked for Measure C is because we could not afford to hire more officers," Harper said.

Given the "two steps forward and one step back" nature of hiring at the same time officers are being lost to attrition, Antioch will do well if it hits 97 sworn officers by next summer, Duran said.

The city also is dealing with a large structural deficit, he said.

"If we were to hire 35 cops, we'd go bankrupt in two years," he said.

Several members of a newly appointed Measure C oversight committee spoke at the meeting, and others have sent emails to city leaders voicing their frustration.

"We campaigned for (funding) to be on top of whatever the current police budget is," said Hans Ho, who also coordinates the Neighborhood Watch program. "We need to know what the baseline is. Did we hear wrong when we set out, or did we hear right? The city needs to be upfront."

Added Catherine Walker: "I'm concerned, as are my neighbors, we are not going to be given what we felt were promised."

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Gary Agopian asked what the officer staffing level was a week before the November election, along with detailed numbers in the budget on the average costs to hire officers, both new and veteran, sworn and non-sworn, and pension costs, as well as whether money is being carried over to cover the deficit in the police department's budget.

"I want the public to know, and I want people to have faith with Measure C," Agopian said. "I don't want them for one second to think they are being bamboozled."

The police budget is projected at a baseline of $28.4 million before adding $4.3 million of Measure C revenue, Duran said. Code enforcement will use $170,000 in Measure C funds.

The council will hold several study sessions on the $42.9 million general fund before considering it for approval June 10.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

How Much is A Half-Cent Tax?
Here is an example of some everyday items sold at Antioch stores and how much additional tax a shopper will pay starting Tuesday. Sales tax on cars depends on the home city of the purchaser.
Item Cost Current 8.5 percent tax New 9 percent tax Increase
100 oz. bottle of detergent at Target $12 $1.02 $1.08 $.06
Quilt/cross stitch set at Hobby Lobby $46 $3.91 $4.14 $.23
20 gallons of gas at Shell $80 $6.80 $7.20 $.40
Basketball shoes at Sports Authority $140 $11.90 $12.60 $.70
Gas barbecue at Lowe's $400 $34 $36 $2
Sedan at Antioch Toyota $20,000 $1,700 $1,800 $100