Electronic tax

Westminster officials consider renewing sales tax amid growing city debt

WESTMINSTER, Calif. — With the City of Westminster teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and the midterm elections approaching, city officials are deciding whether to renew their 1% municipal sales tax in the November ballot while looking for other income-generating options.

Westminster faces a looming budget shortfall of more than $17 million, and city councilors must decide whether to let residents vote to renew the sales tax – which brings in between $12 million and $15 million a year – to bridge the gap. difference.

For the tax to be placed on the November ballot, at least four out of five councilors must vote yes at a meeting by Aug. 12, the deadline set by the Orange County Registrar of Electors. Originally passed in 2016 and due to expire at the end of the year, the tax accounts for a quarter of the city’s operating budget.

Without that revenue, the city could eventually be forced to cut basic services or even file for bankruptcy by 2024 if there isn’t an additional source of revenue to offset it, according to councilor Kimberly Ho.

Budget cuts have already led to a 33% reduction in the city’s police department, according to police chief Darin Lenyi, who noted at a council meeting last month that many members of the force were working even harder to accommodate these staffing shortages.

Westminster Police Department in Westminster, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Three councilors — Mayor Tri Ta, Vice Mayor Carlos Manzo and Councilwoman Kimberly Ho — appear to have mixed feelings about the sales tax renewal, as well as other options they would consider in its place.

Currently, Ta has decided to vote no, with Manzo and Ho in favor of imposing the tax on the November ballot.

Although a 2020 poll by the city showed that 60% of residents supported the tax, Ta pledged to reject the ballot measure, saying the option is not the right choice for the city in an environment of “soaring” inflation.

“[With] residents who are struggling to balance household budgets, now is not the time to raise taxes unnecessarily,” Ta told The Epoch Times, adding that “worst-case scenario” forecasts show the city can continue to operate normally until the “minus” current of 2025.

“Unfortunately some of my opponents have joined forces with special interests to try to impose new taxes on the people of Westminster,” Ta said.

As such, Ta said the city needs to ‘streamline’ its operations by ‘deregulating’ small businesses, which Ta says will encourage more businesses to come to town, such as Bolsa Row, the new trade of Little Saigon retail and residential place.

Epoch Times Photo
Visitors look out the windows of City Hall in Westminster, Calif., on Sept. 3, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Manzo disagrees, saying the city’s budget gap is too big to fix with a few more companies.

“That’s a 25% difference. …I don’t think we’d be able to make up for that just [the tax revenues coming from] small businesses only,” Manzo said.

Having previously expressed support for the sales tax, Manzo adds that lower taxes in other areas are partly to blame for the city’s financial woes.

“The reason we’re in this position is that our property tax is already so low and we’re basically dependent on this service,” Manzo said.

Meanwhile, Manzo notes that the one percent tax, while helpful, would only help “keep the lights on” in terms of maintaining basic city services like policing or collecting traffic. garbage.

Attracting income-generating businesses, Manzo said, would require large-scale redevelopment around the city.

“I think businesses really don’t want to consider coming to Westminster because of how our city looks, I think that plays a part,” Manzo said. “And then the financial situation in which we are [also] play a role.”

One option Manzo said he would consider, offered by city staff several weeks ago, is to expand zoning to allow for the sale of cannabis.

Councilors also asked staff to consider additional funding options such as electronic billboards and vendor kiosks in the civic center, at a recent city council meeting.

Ho, on the other hand, says that if the vote takes place tomorrow, she would vote to support putting the tax on the ballot after the city presented its budget study last week, while affirming its desire to wait until she “hears all the facts” before finally making her final decision.

“If I had to vote tomorrow, I [vote to] put it on the ballot,” Ho told The Epoch Times on June 16. “And I urge my colleagues to do the same.

Another “revenue-generating” option she said she would consider is repurposing the Westminster Mall.

“As a business owner, I think we have so much potential to revitalize parts like the mall to attract a lot more business and need housing,” Ho said. “We could really balance that out. And that’s just an idea.

Ho says the option, while initially requiring city funding, would generate large amounts of revenue while invigorating the city’s economy.

Both Ta and Ho ran for the 70th State Assembly District seat, with Ho announcing on June 16 that he would run for mayor of the city after Ta won the primary.

Ho pledges to help solve the problems of homelessness and economic inflation that “afflict” the city, in addition to keeping the police and fire department “fully” funded amid budget shortages.

Councilors Chi Charlie Nguyen and Tai Do did not return requests for comment by the press deadline.

Carol Cassis