ANTIOCH -- For the second time in three years, voters here are being asked to consider a half-cent sales tax hike to boost the city's police force and code enforcement staffing.
If Measure C is approved on Nov. 5, Antioch shoppers would pay an extra nickel for every $10 spent for the next seven years, as the sales tax would rise to 9 cents per dollar.
Supporters say it will help to hire some 22 police and code enforcement officers, bringing the total number closer to where it belongs after five years of cuts.
"Everyone needs to feel safer in Antioch," said Martha Parsons, a lifelong resident and former councilwoman. "It will provide staffing help that the police department and code enforcement need and make small business and real estate more desirable."
Adds Mayor Wade Harper: "If we're going to make this city turn around for the better, we can't wait for the economy to turn around."
Opponents contend there is no guarantee city leaders will spend the money on police, and the extra tax will drive shoppers to other cities and place another burden on local families struggling financially.
The $4.7 million Antioch estimates it will receive from Measure C would go to the city's general fund, where it could be used for any legal municipal purpose -- including police, code enforcement, economic development, fixing potholes, senior and youth services and other programs.
"Nobody knows for sure where the money is going to go; it's not dedicated to public safety," resident Karl Dietzel said. "There needs to be more discussion by the council about where the money would be spent. We have not even seen a spending plan."
City leaders have indicated the money's focus would be on lowering crime and cleaning up blighted properties.
"We're going to make sure that happens," Harper said. "(The council) knows we have to get this done and is putting all politics aside."
A seven-member citizens oversight committee, appointed by the City Council, and an annual audit are among Measure C's provisions to keep tabs on how the money would be spent.
If approved, the sales tax would take effect April 1.
Antioch leaders called for the special election by declaring the city was in a "fiscal emergency," paying $204,000 to call for the vote.
City staffing is at about 60 percent of where it was in 2008 while its offices remain closed on Fridays. The number of sworn police is down from 126 officers five years ago to 85.
Meanwhile, public safety concerns in Antioch have escalated. Violent crime increased 30.6 percent in 2012, compared with the year before, while property crime jumped 22.8 percent. Service calls go unanswered longer, arrests are down and there are dozens of code enforcement calls per week that go without response.
Ralph Hernandez, a former councilman, argues the tax is unnecessary, and city officials must do more to cut costs rather than keep overspending on items such as raises and benefit increases for the police union and other groups.
Antioch estimates it would take about $11.3 million in additional revenue to provide the same level of service it did before the recession.
A similar half-cent sales tax measure in 2010 was defeated, with 52 percent voting against it. Supporters say the changes over the past few years are worth noting.
"If Measure P had passed, we wouldn't have the crime we have now," Parsons said. "I think people have seen (the effects) now."
Groups that endorse Measure C include the Antioch Police Officers Association and the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, the latter having opposed the 2010 hike.
Sean Wright, the chamber's chief executive officer, said the concerns about the tax by local businesses are outweighed by increased crime driving potential customers elsewhere.
The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, which opposed the 2010 measure, is taking a neutral stance on Measure C.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
Here is an example of some everyday items sold at Antioch stores and how much additional tax a shopper would pay. Sales tax on cars depends on the home city of the purchaser.
Item Cost Current 8.5 percent tax Proposed 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
Sale Tax Rates
Here is how Antioch's sales tax compares with other Bay Area cities, now and if Measure C is approved.
City Percent per dollar
Antioch (current) 8.5
Antioch (Measure C) 9
Walnut Creek 8.5
San Pablo 9
San Leandro 9.25
Union City 9.5
San Jose 8.75
San Francisco 8.75
Source: California State Board of Equalization