HERCULES -- Officials painted a bleak picture of the coming fiscal year's budget, telling residents at Tuesday's City Council meeting that unless they approve a utility tax hike in June, the city likely would have to disband its police department and contract with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office for police services. Additionally, the Parks and Recreation Department's teen program likely would be eliminated and the staff that runs it would be laid off if Measure A fails, Hercules Finance Director Nickie Mastay warned during a PowerPoint presentation of a draft 2013-2014 fiscal year budget with two versions: one, if the tax measure passes, and the other, if the measure fails.
Measure A would hike the Utility User Tax to 8 percent from the current 6 percent for the next five years. It needs a simple majority to pass.
According to the ballot language, the measure also would "modernize" the tax, meaning extend it to cable TV bills -- something that officials say was authorized in an earlier incarnation of the tax, in 2004, but never levied, for reasons that were not clear Tuesday.
The current 6 percent tax on gas, electric, water and telephone bills was projected to raise $2.16 million this fiscal year for the general fund. Measure A would raise an additional $1 million a year; that amount factors in an extra estimated $280,000 a year from applying the tax, at 8 percent, to previously untaxed cable TV bills.
Mastay's Version A budget draft calls for a general fund budget of about $12.9 million, with a $250,000 deficit that officials will scramble to make up over the next few weeks. Her Version B draft calls for a general fund budget of about $12.25 million, with a $620,000 deficit still to be made up.
Savings to stanch the deficit could come from insurance expense reductions through pooling with other agencies; switching from the current police dispatch service provider, Pinole, to another agency; and filling the deputy city manager position with one of a lesser rank, or under version B, leaving it vacant altogether.
The Version B budget draft envisions 16 sworn sheriff's positions; that total could be cut to 14 to reduce the deficit. The Hercules Police Department currently has 21 sworn officers, including Chief Bill Goswick.
It was not clear Tuesday why the Plan B budget draft assumes a police services contract with the sheriff rather than a downsized municipal police department, especially in view of the higher personnel costs of the former: about $200,000 a year for a deputy versus about $140,000 for a Hercules officer, officials estimated. Councilman Bill Kelly wondered as much, asking, why not just reduce the size of the Hercules Police Department to whatever the sheriff would provide.
City Manager Steve Duran said the comparison is "not pure apples-to-apples" and that there are "certain things the county does" as far as costs and services. He said specifics will be available the next time the matter comes before the council.