MARTINEZ -- The candidates for Antioch mayor all agree that the city must improve its efforts to develop its sale tax base and fight crime but offer differing views on how that should be done.
Former Mayor Donald Freitas, Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper and Councilman Gary Agopian presented their ideas at a recent forum moderated by Times political editor Lisa Vorderbrueggen. The forums will begin airing on local government channels Thursday.
Challenger Michael Leon did not attend the forum.
Agopian said that he supports a property tax that would generate money that could only be used for a specific purpose -- unlike the purposed half-cent sale tax measure that voters rejected in 2010. He added that a tax is not the only way Antioch can find money, and the city must work to improve its retail business to boost its sales tax base.
"There's other ways to roll up the number we need to get back to our approved staffing level," Agopian said.
Harper said he also supports a property tax for more police as one of several options Antioch should be looking into, though he pointed out that such a tax requires two-thirds voter approval.
Drawing on a strategy devised in Tracy, where he works, Harper said the community came up with 900 ideas that whittled down to 28 strategies to help save that city millions of dollars.
"I believe we can do something like that in Antioch; present these ideas to the community and City Council to decide
Freitas said he supports a parcel tax as a last alternative, adding it's a possibility, but he would purpose hiring back an economic development director to grow the sales tax base.
"Without an economic development director, we've just been floating along waiting for someone to knock at City Hall and say 'Here I am, let me help you.' Well that hasn't worked very well," Freitas said. "We need permanent solutions."
Both Harper and Agopian later pointed out that the city's newly hired human resources director is also acting as the city's economic development director, as the city is adjusting to a "new norm" of employees handling several jobs.
After a follow-up question from Vorderbrueggen to Freitas about if Antioch had lured any businesses into the city, the round-table shifted to economic development. Freitas brought up that during his time as mayor, Antioch landed Macy's and JC Penney.
"You have to be assertive, you have to be aggressive," Freitas said. "If you have to go to Seattle and talk to Bruce Nordstrom about bringing a Nordstrom Rack to Antioch or eastern Contra Costa County, then let's do it."
Cities should also stop trying to "cannibalize" other businesses and work regionally, he said.
Antioch is in the process of bringing in new businesses such as Fresh and Easy market and a Hobby Lobby into the old Meryvns store at the Slatten Ranch shopping center, Harper said.
Harper said Antioch should also consider creating an enterprise zone, which would entice businesses to locate in the city. He said Antioch must also work to protect its water rights and see if it can be used to its advantage.
Agopian said he disagrees with Freitas that Antioch should have retained the economic development director, because it was in "survival mode" and had to live within its means.
Antioch has to rebuild "very judiciously and smartly" and needs leadership that understands that, he said.
Agopian added its important to annex the area to Antioch's northeast because it has deep water access, rail access and could attract 21st century jobs.
Residential perception of Antioch, growth and code enforcement were also discussed during the round-table.
All three candidates found common ground in their support of Measure Q, a $75 per parcel property tax for the Contra Costa Fire District.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
Air dates and times
Antioch Mayor-- Channel 24: 8 p.m. on Oct. 4, 11, 18, 25, Nov. 1 and 5 p.m. on Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28 and Nov. 4. Concord Channel 28: 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, Oct. 6, 13, 20, 26, 27, 28, Nov. 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Contra Costa Television (CCTV) airs countywide on Comcast Channel 27. It also airs on AT&T U-Verse Channel 99 and Astound Channel 32 in Concord and parts of Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.
Channel 26 airs on Comcast in Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Alamo and Danville.
Channel 24 airs on Comcast in East Contra Costa County.
Residents in the following communities can watch their local forums on Comcast Channel 28: Richmond, Walnut Creek, Concord and a combined Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Clayton.
A video of the round-table is also available online at www.contracostatimes.com.