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Whittier voters will consider tax increase

WHITTIER – Will Whittier voters tax themselves to help plug a growing budget deficit?

The City Council thinks the answer is “yes.”

On a unanimous vote, council members voted last week to place a sales tax increase on the March 3, 2020 ballot.

If approved by voters, the local sales tax would increase by 0.75%; in other words, it would add 75 cents to every $100 taxable purchase.

Whittier is facing increasing budget concerns caused by soaring pension obligations. Earlier this year, the council allocated $3 million from its pension reserve fund to balance its 2019-20 fiscal budget.

Whittier also hasn’t recovered since losing about 25% of its sales tax revenue during the 2008-09 recession, officials said. According to a report to the City Council, Whittier’s budget deficit is expected to exceed $19 million within five years.

Whittier’s sales tax currently stands at 9.5% but officials contended that very little of that money — only 1% — stays local. The rest is divvied between the state (3.94%), L.A. County transportation (2.25%), L.A. County health and welfare (1.56%), L.A. County public safety (0.50%) and county homeless services (0.25%).

The city also had to contend with the loss of state redevelopment funds in 2012, which cost Whittier about $8 million.

“Our city’s first priority is maintaining the quality of life and public safety of all of our residents,” Mayor Joe Vinatieri told the Whittier Chamber of Commerce.

Upping the sales tax by 0.75% is anticipated to raise $6.4 million annually. Those proceeds would be used to hire and retain police officers, city officials said, and also to address homelessness and on local programs that help children and seniors.

The increased funding would also lower 911 response times, officials said.

A public survey commissioned by the City Council revealed that voters’ top priorities are homelessness, protecting water resources, retaining and attracting local businesses, protecting long-term financial sustainability, and maintaining public safety and quality of life programs.

“Over the past several years, the City has taken unprecedented steps to manage increasing costs, including reducing staff, streamlining city services and increasing employee shares of their pensions in order to maintain the level of services our community desires,” the City Council wrote in a resolution putting the sales tax increase on next year’s ballot.

“Even with these measures in place, the City is facing cumulative deficits of $19 million over the next five years.”

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