The majority of East Contra Costa voters who were asked this week to open their pocketbooks to help pay for services resoundingly said no to new property taxes but yes to a sales tax.
A parcel tax to save fire services in East Contra Costa easternmost communities was soundly defeated, garnering just 43 percent of the vote despite requiring two-thirds approval to pass.
Meanwhile, in Antioch, a $59.5 million property tax to give aging Antioch High a face-lift, fell just below the 55 percent needed to pass as 53.46 percent of voters in the older section of town cast ballots in favor of the tax.
On the other end of the region, Pittsburg voters soundly approved a half-cent sales tax measure. It captured 74 percent of the vote.
East Contra Costa fire district's Measure S, which would have generated up to $101 million over the next decade, was the most contentious in the region. It would have enabled the district to save two or three stations on the brink of closure, as well as the jobs of as many as 19 firefighters. It also would have may it possible for the district to reopen a station, and hire 20 firefighters with paramedic training so that it can have one of them on each shift.
"We are clearly very disappointed in these results," said Vince Wells, president of Local 1230 of United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County.
"We hoped that East County residents would understand the critical issues at stake ... and the
Although she worked to defeat the measure, Kris Hunt, executive director of Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, said she had mixed feelings about the way the vote was going.
She said the agency's nine-member board of directors proposed a hefty tax that put residents in the position of either having to approve it or, as proponents framed the issue, face dire consequences if they rejected it.
"They should have done something more realistic, something that people could afford," Hunt said.
While most of the region knew how its measures fared Tuesday night, Antioch school officials did not know the outcome of Measure J until Wednesday morning.
Needs identified at the 58-year-old school included new and reconfigured classrooms that better suit the school's aim to create learning groups; repairs to hallways and other aging structures; a new library and media center; and renovated sports facilities, including a new pool, track and locker rooms, will now have to wait.
"It is what it is; sometimes the cards don't fall in your favor," Antioch High Principal Louie Rocha said.
The low turnout of registered voters, particularly those that are parents, played a hand in the narrow defeat, he said.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge and tried to get the word out through phone banking and talking to parents to get them out to vote, but in the end I guess it wasn't enough."
Proponents of the school bond measure argued that students at the school deserved to have improved amenities and that the school's current condition puts kids at a disadvantage. Opponents largely agreed that the school needs improvement, but argued taxpayers are overextended with other personal costs at this time.
The lone successful East Contra Costa ballot measure was in Pittsburg
More than 74 percent of Pittsburg voters backed a half-cent tax on items purchased in the city to ease its budget woes.
Measure P will increase the city's sales tax in Pittsburg a half cent from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent for five years, then lower it to 8.5 percent for five years after that.
City leaders say the tax increase will make up for lost revenues brought on by a tough economy.
Pitttsburg Mayor Ben Johnson was thrilled with the overwhelming vote in support of the sales tax increase.
"I am happy with it. Whenever you get 75 percent approval in the results in your favor, you should be happy."
Since 2008, sales and property tax revenues have fallen $2.6 million, which represents a 26 percent decrease.
The measure will bring in an estimated $2 million a year for the first five years, which would help fix a projected $2.7 million budget gap for upcoming fiscal year.
Passage of Measure P means the city won't have to consider layoffs as a solution to balancing the budget.
"We would have had to lay off, seven, eight or nine people, if it hadn't passed," Johnson said.
Keeping things status quo was a theme in Antioch, as a pair of measures to get rid of three directly elected positions in Antioch were soundly defeated.
Measure M, which would have changed Antioch's mayor position from being elected to appointed by sitting council members, had 84.4 percent of voters cast ballots against it. Measure L, which would make the part-time Antioch city clerk and city treasurer staff positions rather than elected positions, received a 71 percent no vote.
"We wanted to put it out there for the public to decide, and clearly the voters have spoken and they want to keep things the way they are," Mayor Jim Davis said.
Antioch's mayoral seat, two council positions, clerk and treasurer will be up for election in November.
Staff writer Eve Mitchell contributed to this story. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.