In an unprecedented move Monday, the Los Alamitos City Council voted unanimously to approve a “Fiscal Accountability Pledge,” designed to govern future spending and provide transparency to the public.
With a 1.5 percent sales tax increase on the ballot (Measure Y), the move is designed to give comfort to taxpayers by providing somewhat of a soft dedication to any future revenue that would be directed into the general fund should Measure Y be approved. If approved, the new measure will generate approximately $4 million per year.
Even after two years of hosting community meetings, publishing data about their finances and airing a television show explaining the situation, council members expressed some concern that citizens still did not understand the steps which city officials have taken to balance the budget.
Changing state rules, unfunded mandates and city decisions that go back decades have contributed to a myriad of reasons for the city’s sinking financial fortunes. This year’s projected $1.3 million deficit was patched using more payroll cuts, but without revenue generation, the city has acknowledged it will be out of money completely in five years or less, giving critical importance to Measure Y.
“Los Al is a great place to live,” said outgoing Mayor Richard D. Murphy, suggesting that without additional revenue, it will be harder and harder to keep it that way.
As a CPA, the mayor said he has kept a promise to citizens to spend taxpayer money “like I would spend my own.” He noted that the city has reduced its workforce from 75 down to 31, and reduced salaries to below 25 percent of the county average.
Despite cuts, city employees are doing a “phenomenal job,” he said.
Mayor Pro-tem Mark Chirco, who serves on the city’s fiscal accountability subcommittee, said the city has gone through an extensive process to be transparent with taxpayers over the past two years.
“Our city is very small but has a loud voice,” said Chirco. He said the entire budget, projections and every financial scenario has been posted to the website. “We are going to have to pay, one way or the other,” he said.
If not approved, he said, “we will soon not have enough money to pay our bills.” Unfortunately, the financial situation will have an impact on the city’s beloved police department, he added.
“It’s not a scare tactic,” said Chirco, “but sorry to say it is just the truth.” He advised citizens to “do your own research” and “reject the misinformation” about the measure being spread on social media.
Council member Shelley Hasselbrink, also a member of the fiscal sustainability subcommittee, said Los Alamitos citizens deserve to have that additional tax revenue and should grab it before another state agency does.
“I want to make sure that we keep Los Alamitos a great place to live for my future grandchildren,” she said, noting that Measure Y is simply about preserving the city’s amazing quality of life.
Council member Dean Grose went through a detailed explanation of how the city gets very little from the current sales taxes paid by residents. “We get one percent,” said Grose, adding that other government units get the rest.
Grose recited a list of nearby cities including Stanton, Seal Beach, Garden Grove, Westminster and others who passed sales tax increases in 2018 and said the sales tax would not apply to groceries, drugs and other protected commodities.
For applicable items, Grose said taxpayers would pay only 1.5 cents on every dollar. Grose said he had already voted and did support the measure but invited others to make their own decisions.
“Nobody likes taxes,” said council member Tanya Doby, “but somebody’s going to grab that money so I’m going to work to give it to my city.”
“At least then,” said Doby, “it would be a reinvestment into our city and we can account for every dollar.”
Doby said the fiscal accountability pledge is a “transparency message” that was good to “hit head on.”
Murphy moved the passage of the plan (see related article) and the council voted 5-0 to commit the council to the terms of the “Fiscal Accountability Pledge.”
It was the first time the Council met in person since the onset of the pandemic as the council and staff gathered, with social distancing and ventilation, in the much larger Los Alamitos Community Center rather than the smaller city hall.
In other action Monday, the city;
• Honored Blair Petrini of Grateful Hearts, a twodecadeold nonprofit organization in the city, for feeding 10,000 meals per month during the pandemic. She thanked her “amazing team” for helping Grateful Hearts feed many of the pandemic’s “newly vulnerable.” She thanked them for their hard work “day in and day out.”
• Honored Manny Gouveia of Republic Services for his work with the city. Ever since arriving in the city as Municipal Relationship manager, Gouveia said he “has been welcomed with open arms. I am so honored,” he said.
• Honored Warren of Tribe Functional Fitness in Los Alamitos as a representative of the Small Business Community in advance of Small Business Saturday.
• Heard Police Chief Eric R. Nunez tell the council that he would be presenting a more formal report on the incident last week wherein a man was shot and killed by a CHP officer.
• Listened to Hasselbrink recount the year-long process that brought the fire fighting marvel “Helitanker” to Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos. She thanked Kevin M. Payne, Edison CEO for the grant.