For the first time in years, the city of Westminster will step out of austerity mode and put more money into its budget for staff and services, thanks to an infusion of revenue from the one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in November 2016.
The city council voted June 28 to pass a $61.5 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The city has struggled financially since Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies statewide in 2011. As Westminster relied unusually heavily on its redevelopment agency – drawing a tax zone over the entire city – the elimination of their agency hit the city hard, blowing a $10.4 million hole in the budget and prompting 67 layoffs.
Since then the city has relied almost every year on a reserve fund to pay off annual budget deficits, a trend which a financial consultant warned could bankrupt the city by mid-2018.
The additional sales tax revenue from Measure SS – which is estimated to be $13 to $14 million a year – means the city will not need to draw from reserves to pay off its annual budget deficit.
But as the city’s pension costs are expected to increase by nearly $8 million over the next six years, by 2018 the city will begin seeing deficits again, although there will be enough money in reserves to cover it.
Mayor Tri Ta, who campaigned along with council members Tyler Diep and Kimberly Ho as a fiscal conservative and against the sales tax increase, said the budget was in keeping with the passage of Measure SS, which passed with 60 percent of the vote.
“We continue to maintain good and quality services so I truly believe by approving our budget for the next two years we did keep our promise to the residents of the city of Westminster,” Ta said. “I truly believe this council is still fiscally conservative.”
This year’s budget includes nearly $1.1 million in new spending, including the addition of six new employees.
The council also previously approved spending $45,000 toward a six-month pilot program with City Net, a nonprofit that provides homeless outreach services in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Stanton and other cities, as well as funds for the hiring of two new police officers focused on homelessness, and two part-time code enforcement officers.
The Council also approved at their June 28 meeting a new three-year contract for its 45 municipal employees, totaling $737,676 in new spending, $261,313 which will come out of the city’s general fund. h
The contract includes a $3,000 stipend in the first year of the contract and a $1 per hour wage increase in the second and third year.
The council also approved the creation of a second deputy chief position for the police department, a title which is equivalent to a police captain. Police Chief Ralph Ornelas – whose office has not had a secretary for several years – argued that the position was necessary to provide adequate supervision.
Councilman Tyler Diep said the decision to grant the deputy chief position was “unanimous” among council members, although there was no discussion of the budget and individual budget requests at the council meeting.
“It was the first time in many years that all of us get to give staff more tools and more resources,” Diep said.
Councilman Sergio Contreras said the city is “stepping on skinny branches in terms of our budget,” but “we’re going to keep looking at ways to cut costs wherever possible.”
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