Budget, civic center plan eyed

WESTMINSTER CITY HALL (Orange County Tribune photo).

What could be a showdown on the future of a long-simmering plan to sell part of the Civic Center for housing in exchange for a new city hall comes before the Westminster City Council when it meets on Wednesday.

At the March 24 meeting of the council, a majority – councilmembers Tai Do, Carlos Manzo and Kimberly Ho – asked for a budget forecast for fiscal years 2021-2025 and a report on city assets proposed as part of the Civic Center project.

The report shows that  – as a result of the expiration of the city’s 1-cent sales tax (Measure SS) – the city’s general fund will lose as much as $19 million, with the general fund reserve balance going into red ink by 2024-25.

To balance the budget, the city would have to make cuts such as lay off 40 police officers, 24 other employees and many part-time positions. All community events and recreation programs would be eliminated.

That possible budget deficit is tied to the proposal by Sheldon Development to construct a condominium project on what’s now public land because of the possible precarious state of the city’s finances.

The report to the council notes a “number of unknowns,” including missing information and details about the proposed project, the costs of the proposed new city hall, the source of funds and whether it’s “financially feasible for the city.” The choices may range from a new city hall building, a partial new building consolidated with the partly vacant police building, or “the status quo.”

In 2016, Westminster voters approved Measure SS, a 1-cent sales tax measure with a “sunset” clause of six years.  In August 2020, the city council rejected a proposal to place a 1-cent sales tax – with no end date – on the ballot for the November election.

If the council decides to put the issue before voters on the 2022 ballot, the city would still lose millions of dollars because – even if voters gave their approval –the cash would not begin to flow until April 2023, because Measure SS will expire on Dec. 31, 2022.

Westminster has had financial difficulties for more than a decade. The city has one of the lowest property tax rates in California, and its largest generator of sales tax – Westminster Mall – has been battered by the flight of many shoppers to online shopping and to newer, outdoor commercial centers.

The meeting will be held virtually starting with a closed session at 6:30 p.m., followed by the open session at 7 p.m.

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