ANTIOCH -- In a move aimed at keeping the faith with voters while being mindful of the city's limited finances, leaders have advised staff to increase the number of sworn police officers to 104 over the next 18 months.
The City Council also looked at possible short- and long-term cost-cutting measures during a budget study session last week, including fewer library hours and limiting maintenance or closing some parks and trails.
Antioch's final budget will be considered for adoption on June 10.
The council's examination of the budget has included funding public safety with money from Measure C, a half-cent sales tax voters approved in November, and managing costs within the rest of the proposed $42.8 million budget -- including bracing for a projected $2.7 million deficit by next July.
"If we don't slow down the rate in which we're spending down reserves, then it's going to be to point where it's going to be too late to react, so we really have to be serious about that deficit," City Manager Steve Duran said.
Antioch's spending plan calls for increasing the number of sworn officers from 84 to 97 by July 1, and 100 the year after that -- below the current authorization for 102 sworn officers. The 104 figure, suggested to appease a campaign pledge of hiring 22 police officers, is the goal, city leaders say.
"I believe that getting us as close as we can to the 20-plus officers is a promise kept," Mayor Wade Harper said. "Let's not look at trying to get more officers on the paper; let's look at trying to get more officers on the street."
Councilman Gary Agopian requested that the city put out reports every six months to keep the public in the loop.
City staff confirmed that 82 was baseline staffing set before the election that the sales tax would supplement. Some in the community, including entrenched Measure C supporters, have said in recent weeks they assumed 102 was the baseline.
Finance Director Dawn Merchant said the city has been running with about 19 vacancies budgeted in stages and not fully cash-funded. Those savings were to be used to help bring down the deficit and bring back some nonsworn community service officer positions, she said.
"No matter what we may argue about what was intended ... it only matters what we have in the bank," Agopian said.
"I think we just have to be honest about that. I know some people won't like it, but it's honest. Numbers change. The economy changes."
Resident Terry Ramus suggested that the council not play games with the numbers, then work together to improve neighborhoods and create jobs.
"If you can't make the numbers this year, or next year, or whatever it might be, keep the numbers honest," he said.
Some who have been skeptical of the budget plan to meet with city leaders to get more information. One question raised is how the projected expenses for police are about the same as they were in 2008, when Antioch had 126 sworn officers.
The average cost for an officer in 2008 was about $144,000 and is $192,000 now, mainly because of salary and pension cost increases, Duran said. The total hiring cost for an officer ranges from $203,560 to $219,965, depending on experience and needed training, Merchant said.
Resident Mark Jordan added that Antioch "can't budget its way out" of the program and must find innovative ways to create income. Agopian mentioned that Duran is working on a development plan and that a citizen-led ballot initiative for a landlord tax being circulated is "intriguing."
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha suggested that the city come up with a priority list of what it has to pay for and "items on the side that maybe we can't afford anymore."
Antioch is also projecting a $577,000 subsidy for recreation services and $253,000 for Prewett Water Park operations. In addition, the council decided against giving raises for some staff job position changes and requesting the golf course pay more in loan repayments.
The nearly $112,000 cut to library maintenance would reduce the hours at the East 18th Street branch from 35 to 28 hours.
The council also asked about looking at the possibility of outsourcing operations for Lone Tree Golf Course and the water park, once the budget is adopted.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.