In an effort to ease a path to increasing taxes this summer, the Hercules City Council unanimously declared a state of fiscal emergency in the city Tuesday night.
"We're either going to increase our income by imposing a new tax that no one's going to be happy with, I'm sure, or we're going to take some very drastic steps like [dissolving the Hercules Police Department]," Council Member Bill Kelly said. "My wife's not happy with me for supporting this, but I don't know that I have any choice."
This is the second consecutive year the council has declared a state of fiscal emergency, and the declaration will allow a tax increase measure on the ballot to pass with a vote of 50-percent-plus-one-vote instead of the usual two-thirds margin. The council is considering asking voters in a June election to increase the city's utility users tax by 2 percent and include cable in the utilities that are taxed, but has not formally placed that measure on a ballot.
The city faces a $1.2 million deficit for the next fiscal year, about the same amount plugged by a one-time fund transfer this year.
Dale Robbins, Secretary-Treasure and Principal Officer of the Teamsters 315 union that represents many city employees, outlined some of the concessions they have already given to help the city's finances.
"There's really nothing else the employees would be willing to give back to help you balance the budget," Robbins told the council. "They've done their share and remember, they've had the hopes that you would find the money to solve some of these financial problems, and are sorry to see you're in the same position with this deficit."
The city has already laid off a third of its police force and numerous other city employees, and imposes furloughs and requires employees to pay more toward their benefits.
Vice Mayor Myrna de Vera said she was hesitant to vote in favor of the declaration, saying she wanted to hear more about the city's options if a tax measure fails.
"I'm not sure we can be declaring fiscal emergencies every year," de Vera said.
After the declaration was passed, the council voted to hire the Lew Edwards Group to provide polling and communication services for the possible tax measure; that firm's services to the city could cost up to $65,000.
The council also voted 4-1, with Kelly opposed, to raise solid waste rates in the city. The move will also increase the "franchise fee" paid to the city, resulting in an increase in revenue. Click here for more on that topic.