ANTIOCH -- City leaders are going back to the drawing board to find ways to close a $4 million budget gap after voters decided Tuesday they don't want to pay more sales tax to boost revenue.
Antioch has enough reserves to get through the end of the fiscal year in June, but reductions must be made over the next few months to avoid "draconian cuts" next year, City Manager Jim Jakel said.
Everything is on the table, including laying off sworn police officers, city leaders said.
Jakel met with senior staff members after the election to discuss possible cost-saving options within their departments. The City Council will receive an update on Antioch's budget at a special meeting within the next few weeks.
The city's plan almost certainly will include employee layoffs, Jakel said. Other potential options include cutting funding for city vehicle maintenance and replacement and not opening Prewett Water Park this summer.
"We've already made deep cuts. Unfortunately, we're going to have to cut even deeper," Mayor Jim Davis said.
Councilman Brian Kalinowski added: "Nobody is going to enjoy the experience, but that's just the reality of where we are."
The city already has cut $13 million over the past two years because of declining home values and consumer spending.
Budget cuts have included freezing vacant positions, 41 layoffs, employee furloughs on Fridays, and reduced services in every city department.
After approving a $35.3 million budget in June for the 2010-11 fiscal year that was called "bare bones," the City Council put a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax measure on the ballot. Revenue from Measure P would have gone to restore city services lost to budget cuts, including police response, pothole repair and code enforcement.
Antioch voters rejected the measure Tuesday, with 52 percent saying no.
City staff members are preparing an analysis for the upcoming study session with different options for balancing the budget.
"We're going to do what needs to be done to avoid bankruptcy," Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha said.
"It's not a punishment to the voters," Kalinowski said, "but at the end of the day, we have a finite amount of money to spend."
Antioch's sworn police force has been spared from layoffs the past few years, though pink slips went out to non-sworn police staff members. The department currently has a vacancy rate of 35 percent, including 50 unfilled positions and those on injury or military leave, Chief Jim Hyde said last month.
Police services constitute 65 percent of the city's general fund.
It is uncertain when city layoffs would take place. Jakel said he will wait to see whether Antioch loses some employees through attrition but noted "the longer we wait, the more we will have to cut."
Antioch may lose nine officers through attrition in the next few months, said Sgt. Tom Furhmann, president of the Antioch Police Officers Association.
"Personally, I don't want to cut public safety, but where else is it going to come from?" Davis said.
Voters also ousted City Council members Reggie Moore and Martha Parsons on Tuesday. Wade Harper, currently a school board trustee, was elected with the most votes, while Gary Agopian appears to have won the second open seat.
Agopian leads fellow challenger Arne Simonsen by 70 votes with some mail-in and provisional ballots still to be counted.
Jakel plans to meet with the newly elected council members soon to bring them up to speed on the city's financial situation.
"They are going to have to hit the ground running," he said.
The city does not appear likely to bring another tax measure before voters anytime soon. Some Measure P opponents have suggested placing a parcel tax initiative for police services on the ballot.
City leaders, however, point out that Measure P failed despite requiring only a majority vote, while a parcel tax would require two-thirds approval.
But Agopian believes a parcel tax could pass if there is trust in city leadership and it is narrowly focused.
Despite the "doom and gloom," there are some reasons for optimism, Jakel said.
Construction will start soon on Mirant Corp.'s $700 million Marsh Landing power plant project on land the city plans to annex, and Highway 4 and BART expansion projects mean construction workers will spend money in Antioch.
"We're going through a rough patch right now, but things will get better," Jakel said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.