By Jim Tortolano
There was delay and dire predictions, tedium and even tears at Monday’s special meeting of the Westminster City Council.
What there wasn’t was a vote on the sole item on the agenda, a proposal to place a 1.5 cent sales tax increase before voters in the Nov. 3 election, which would raise an estimated $19 million annually.
The climax of the afternoon webconference session, which went past two hours, was the vote on a motion by Councilman Sergio Contreras to extend the present Measure SS adopted by voters in 2016 at the current 1-cent level, but with no “sunset” clause. Unless otherwise renewed, that tax increase will lapse in 2022.
Deadline to place a measure on the ballot is Friday, Aug. 7.
His motion failed on a 3-1-1 vote. Four “affirmative” votes were needed. Mayor Tri Ta abstained and Councilmember Tai Do voted no, almost certainly killing the prospects for extending or increasing Measure SS’s tax. The next time voters would get a chance to consider such a proposal would be in November 2022.
Staff presentations outlined the case for the tax measure, citing the effects and costs of the coronavirus pandemic. The council then grew dead silent. “Anybody? A comment or a motion?” asked the mayor, repeatedly. The silence continued until he was nearly ready to adjourn the meeting without any action until Councilmember Kimberly Ho finally spoke up.
She asked numerous questions about the impact and need for the tax, at one point breaking into tears. “I don’t want to see any layoffs,” she said, recalling a time before her service on the council when financial problems led to discharging about one-third of city employees.
Interim City Manager Sherry Johnson noted that even with the Measure SS revenue, the city was running a $4 million deficit being plugged by reserves. Without more money coming in, the city would eventually “be out of money,” she said. “We’d be bankrupt.”
A motion to put the 1.5 cent proposal on the ballot failed for the lack of a second, and – once again – when it seemed the council would take no action, Contreras made his motion, seconded by Chi Charlie Nguyen, sending the matter to its final concluding vote.
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