Westminster

Budget OKd; tax redo coming?

THE WESTMINSTER City Council approved the 2020-21 budget on Wednesday (File photo).

The possibility of asking voters in Westminster to renew or expand a 1 percent sales tax levy approved in 2016 may be increasing.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved on a 5-0 vote a budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The city was faced with a 1 million deficit, which was balanced by tapping reserves, freezing vacant positions and other measures. But there may be more changes ahead.

“With the impact of COVID-19,” said Interim City Manager Sherry Johnson, “there are a lot of unknowns.”

During the budget presentation that led up to the vote, the report covered the significance of Measure SS, the tax increase set to expire in December 2022. According to Johnson, if that revenue disappears, there’s a projected municipal deficit of $17.2 million for fiscal year 2023-24, requiring a cut in the budget of a similar amount.

“Without the revenue from the tax, we are completely out of money by 2023-24,” said Johnson.

Following the vote, Diana Carey of the Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure SS told the council that unless the tax is renewed, “the city will face dire choices.”

The city this week released the results of a telephone survey of 400 Westminster voters that indicated strong popular support for renewing the tax – perhaps an issue for the November 2020 election – and even more support for a 1.5 percent increase.

According to the poll, 57 percent of all voters polled backed the tax. Additionally, the poll showed 60 percent support for the higher number.

By ethnicity, support for renewing Measure SS was highest among Vietnamese at 61 percent and lowest among non-Hispanic whites at 43 percent. Hispanics were at 50 percent.

By age group, the most support was from the 18-29 group at 61 percent, with the least at 48 percent among those in the 50-64 group. However, all groups showed a plurality in favor.

General tax increases require only a majority vote to be approved.

The survey was conducted May 2-7 by FM3 Research.

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