By Amir Ghani/Orange County Tribune
More time is being taken by the Westminster City Council to review and revise a budget created by the city staff that recommended the council use funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 during the city council meeting on Wednesday night.
ARPA, as it’s known, is a federal law providing financial relief for state and local governments to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a March 9, 2022 study session reviewing different programs that may be eligible for funding allocation was completed, city staff found that the main services that need the most funding are public safety and security, community improvements, community assistance, homelessness, and affordable housing development.
Now, with almost six months gone by, the city council feels that Westminster has more important issues to put its budget toward. Some of these issues, like cybersecurity and police computer systems, were so necessary to fix that the City Council decided to budget over $2 million on Wednesday towards their overhaul. No date has been set for the review of the edited budget.
Jake Ngo, the public works director and city engineer recommended an upgrade to air conditioning units in city buildings and said that the city is behind on OSHA regulations, which require HEPA filters and a higher rate of airflow. This would cost the city $1.3 million.
“If our [A/C] units go out, we’d have to wait five to six months for a new one. If anything happened to the new cooling center too, it wouldn’t serve its purpose,” said Ngo.
“Let’s spend some time and go over this again. If we need another study session, I’m comfortable with that,” said Councilmember Chi Charlie Nguyen.
“If we keep dragging, costs will rise,” said City Manager Christine Cordon in response, “The whole goal is to come back with a balanced allocation.”
One service taken out since the March study session includes $3 million towards essential worker pay for public Westminster City workers that worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, which Council Member Tai Do inquired about, hoping to reinclude it to the budget.
“I think the council should use this grant to pay those that worked during the pandemic,” said Councilmember Do, hoping to give around $1500 to each worker.
“The problem with essential pay is the limits of the grant,” said Erin Backs, Westminster’s finance director.
Assistant City Manager Adolfo Ozaeta, recommended an upgrade to the city’s online infrastructure and cybersecurity, citing specific concerns with the police department’s phone line system crashing at certain times, leaving residents unable to access police services.
“There is no one vendor that will be getting this amount, we will do our due diligence and find the right company for each service,” said Ozaeta.
“This is something I’m really excited [about] and in agreement to put money towards,” said Vice Mayor Carlos Manzo, starting a motion for city staff to amend the proposal.
Because of Ozaeta’s concerns about cybersecurity and the lacking police infrastructure, Manzo amended his motion to include the approval of funding for critical infrastructure technology upgrades for digital security and upgrading of the police’s computer aided dispatch and records management system. The total cost of these two items is $2,321,500. The motion passed with a vote of 5-0.
Soon, city staff will bring the Westminster City Council an updated budget, which will include the $2 million spent on Wednesday, to be reviewed and either approved or sent back for more revision. The city must commit the rest of the funds to be used by Dec/ 31, 2024, and spend them by Dec. 31, 2026.