Defeat Westminster Tax Hike
by Ari Armstrong, October 23, 2003
A majority of voting Westminster residents will decide whether to raise the city sales tax by 18.5%, from 3.25% to 3.85%. The tax increase proposal, measure 2A, would raise $9.9 million in the first year and continue without sunset. The money would be used to hire 40 police officers, 35 fire fighters, and "appropriate support staff" and purchase a fire engine, ambulance, and unspecified "equipment." The tax hike is a bad idea and should be defeated.
Even though the supporters of 2A claim "non-residents and tourists will help pay for these improvements," a higher sales tax will encourage both residents and non-residents to leave Westminster and buy their goods elsewhere. This will hurt local businesses.
The tax increase is too high. According to Sandy Schwab of the Westminster Police Department, the starting salary for police officers is $39,562.26 and tops out at $58,524.37. Thus, salaries for the 75 new hires will constitute considerably less than half the allotted new tax revenues. If we assume the average salary is $50,000 per year, that leaves $82,000 per year to support each new hire (on top of salary). And that's unnecessary and irresponsible.
Any new tax hike should come with a sunset provision, so voters can re-evaluate in a few years. Thus, even those who believe more taxes should be raised to fund police and fire services should reject 2A and demand a more responsible proposal for a future election.
I do not believe taxes should be raised at all. Instead, city politicians should cut other existing programs if they want to spend more on police and fire services. The city should sell its golf courses, stop publishing its own "news" paper, stop subsidizing businesses, and cut other unnecessary expenses.
The supporters of 2A claim emergency calls are up 50% from 1993 and "police service calls are up 101% since 1990." But obviously that's only part of the story. In 1990, the population was 74,623; now it is 106,312, a 42% increase. But the police force has expanded roughly with the population. In 1993, 113 sworn officers worked for the city; in 2003, 155 sworn officers did. That's an increase of 37%. In 1993, the police budget was $7,448,192; in 2003, the police budget was $15,063,330. That's an increase of 102%. (I'm not adjusting for inflation, however.)
In 1990, total Westminster city expenses amounted to $50,452,141; in 2003, expenses total $125,268,831. That's an increase of 148%. City spending has increased a lot faster than has spending on police and fire services. As the blue book notes, in the 2004 adopted budget, police and fire services accounted for only 32.4% of total operating expenses. This reinforces the point that the appropriate move is to redirect existing tax revenues to police and fire services.
The supporters of 2A claim, "We need more police officers on patrol because we have new types of crime." Bull. We need police officers who spend their time protecting people and their property, not pulling over innocent people for the "new crime" of driving home, or ticketing kids for playing their car radios too loudly, or harassing Hispanic men in parking lots. Also, Westminster should follow Seattle's lead and make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority.
Westminster's police perform valiantly in the face of danger, such as when they confronted a man shooting at people earlier in the month. Indeed, I heard the police respond to a situation just down the street from me in which a man in a car had led the police on a chase and refused to throw down his weapon. The police ended up fatally shooting the man. More recently, I called the Westminster police to break up a large, belligerent gathering in the parking lot outside of my house that I feared would grow violent. Keeping people and their property safe is among the noblest of professions. But the police department is guided by the policies of city council, and the council should make sure the police are consistently spending their time and resources prudently. Thus, the council should simplify the city code such that it covers only real crimes.
Supporters of 2A claim, "Response times have fallen dangerously below national standards (2A will reduce this from 6 to 4 minutes)." But no source is cited, so it's difficult to interpret what this factoid means. Is it true that response times have "fallen," or are they simply higher because of population density? Are there other ways to reduce response times, other than by spending an extra $9.9 million in the first year? What guarantee do we have that the tax increase will result in lower response times, and shouldn't voters be allowed to confirm the results in a few years through a sunset provision? How can the city encourage personal responsibility in handling emergencies (such as keeping a home safer from criminal attack and fire)?
Supporters of 2A also claim, "A growing and aging population requires more service." But everybody knows older people commit fewer crimes. They tend to behave in safer ways generally. Calls for health problems do increase with an older population, but such calls may not outnumber the relative reduction in criminal calls, and they may not require the level of resources per call.
Police services are a legitimate function of governance. That's why I think existing revenues should be re-directed to fund those services. Even those who want to spend more tax dollars to expand police and fire services should demand a more responsible proposal down the road.
Vote "no" on 2A. Pass on the word, hand out flyers, and help defeat this imprudent tax increase.