The four candidates vying for three seats on the Walnut Creek City Council have diverging views on taxes, police and ultimately what the city needs for a stable financial future.
Incumbent Bob Simmons and challengers Barry Grove, Loella Haskew and Justin Wedel recently participated in a forum moderated by Times political editor Lisa Vorderbrueggen recently. The forums will begin airing on local government channels Saturday.
A recommendation by the city's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Fiscal Health for a half-cent sales tax increase -- raising the rate to 8.75 percent and bringing in an estimated $7 million a year -- has candidates on different sides.
Wedel, a small-business owner, said he is not yet convinced that a sales tax is necessary.
"I don't believe the city has done a good enough job of getting our fiscal house in order," he said.
He also asserted other taxing mechanisms should be investigated, such as a property tax, something "less regressive" than a sales tax, he said.
Grove also does not favor increasing the sales tax. There are downsides to such a tax, including that it would come out of the pockets of Walnut Creek families who can't afford to pay more for their goods, said Grove, a county deputy district attorney.
Current Mayor Simmons said voters need to decide on such a tax for themselves. If residents want the services at the levels currently provided, then more revenue is necessary, he said.
With sales tax revenue dropping by one-third during the Great Recession and with an aging city infrastructure, the sales tax has to be considered along with reining in costs, according to Haskew, a retired certified public accountant. She served on the task force that ultimately made the sales tax recommendation, and noted a sales tax would pass costs on to visitors of the city.
The candidates also weighed in on the level of police staffing in Walnut Creek. The police association has been vocal over the past few years in saying the city needs more officers. The City Council has approved two officer positions to be added back over the next two years.
Haskew said the overall crime rate is low and said of last winter's downtown drunken violence that the police did an incredible job. "The problem seems to be in control," she said.
Grove disagreed, saying he has worked as a prosecutor with the department and that the city is tempting fate by not having enough officers. He is specifically concerned because there are no longer school resource officers, which he said are important.
Wedel also called for more officers, and said children are not being protected because neighborhood community policing officers have been reassigned downtown.
Simmons said he looks to the chief of police for staffing level recommendations. There have been no officer layoffs and two police positions were unfrozen, he said, and he championed the City Council's recent passage of an ordinance focused on reducing bar violence downtown.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.
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