Los Al officials comment on sales tax passage

Los Alamitos Mayor Richard D. Murphy

The mayor of Los Alamitos, whose term ends next month, says, this week, that he is gratified that Measure Y was approved by voters, yet the city still has some convincing to do.

Voters on Nov. 3 approved the measure by a slim margin of 3,060 votes for to 2,946 against.

Although the official returns will not be certified for another week or so, the Orange County Registrar’s office said this past weekend that there were not enough uncounted votes remaining to change the outcome, in essence calling the race in favor of the tax.
City officials have been trying every way to communicate the city’s financial straits to its citizens.

Initially, the city had proposed a one-cent sales tax, but eventually decided to ask voters to consider a 1.5 cent sales tax. After debates and discussions, city officials decided they should utilize the city’s only remaining taxing authority before another state agency grabbed it.

Thus, the proposal became 1.5 cents instead of a single penny.

City officials estimated (pre-COVID) that the measure will generate about $4 million per year for the city.

Long before the city even decided to ask for a vote, however, officials were busy holding a series of community meetings in multiple locations with residents to explain in detail the city’s financial plight.

“We explained that this problem began long before our term,” said Murphy, noting also that the city has made drastic cuts over the past two decades.

For real, most city employees accepted pay cuts for the current year, with some employees managing more than one position to balance the 2021 budget.

Yet, says Murphy, despite those significant efforts, the close vote may also indicate that many residents were not convinced of the city’s true financial position.

“I am very happy and relieved that it passed,” said Murphy, “yet I’m surprised that some voters were still not convinced that we weren’t bluffing.” Had the measure not passed, said Murphy, “the council would have had no choice but to start making larger and larger cuts.”
Murphy, who chose not to run for re-election, said based on feedback he’s heard, the razor thin margin could have also been a result of many emotional issues during the term and some uncertainty surrounding the virus.

“There were more than 30 similar propositions in other cities that failed,” he said, noting “it is a tough time (to pass a tax).”

Murphy said voters across the state approved slightly more than half of the municipal propositions on the ballot, with slightly less than half of them failing to gain voter approval.
Nevertheless, because the measure did pass, said Murphy, he felt like it demonstrated that voters “still have faith in the city and they were satisfied that changes have now been made for the better.”

Murphy said he understood some voters’ hesitation, but the vote was “really a decision about living in the past or moving into the future,” said Murphy. “I think they (voters) made the right decision.”

“It makes me feel good that I am leaving the city in much better condition than when I started,” the mayor said. Murphy will leave office in December after serving eight years on the Council.

Also, he noted, the turnout on Measure Y was the “largest single vote turnout in the city’s history.” “People were paying attention.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Chirco

Meanwhile, Mayor Pro-tem Mark Chirco, who chairs a budget standing committee that worked tirelessly on documenting the city’s finances for more than two years, also expressed relief that voters had expressed confidence in the future.

“It is not surprising that the vote on Measure Y was a close one,” said Chirco. “Even without the pandemic and the economic uncertainties facing many families, this likely would have been a close vote.”

“Nevertheless,” said Chirco, “a majority of Los Alamitos residents voted to provide the necessary resources to keep our city functioning as it has been for many years.”
Long term, Chirco said “their vote will ensure that we can avoid the drastic cuts to services and personnel which would have been necessary without Measure Y and which would have negatively impacted quality of life in the city.”

Council member Shelley Hasselbrink

Shelley Hasselbrink, the other long standing member of the budget standing committee, said “we are relieved that Measure Y looks as though it will pass.”

She said the city has “worked very hard over the past years to slim our budget down including reducing our staff by 30%, freezing open positions and delaying non-emergency city improvements.”  “Unfortunately,” said Hasselbrink, “it wasn’t enough and we had to ask our residents for help.  We did a tremendous amount of education and outreach so our residents would understand our financial position and how it will affect our future.”

“Nobody likes taxes,” she said, “but our residents understood that for this tax, all of it will be reinvested back into Los Alamitos.”