By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
A proposal to lay off 67 city employees failed Wednesday when the Westminster City Council reached a 2-2 deadlock. Councilmember Frank Fry was absent.
The layoffs would have cut 12 percent of the city’s full-time work force and 26 percent of its part-time staff. City services would have slowed, as many departments would have had to reduce staffing hours.
But the layoffs also would have saved the city $3.2 million as part of a larger fiscal stabilization plan. Westminster faces a $10.4 million deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year which begins in July.
The council will meet again June 7 at approximately 1:30 p.m. Mayor Margie Rice said she and the council need to take a more proactive approach in solving the budget issue and not just go by staff recommendations.
“I do not feel that we as a council have taken the responsibility that is ours,” Rice said. “We have only reacted to staff comments.”
Rice and Mayor Pro Tem Tri Ta voted against the proposal.
“This is too important to just rubber-stamp it,” Rice said.
Council members Andy Quach and Tyler Diep voted for the proposal.
“I don’t know how long we can drag this out,” Diep said. “Sooner or later we have to pull this lever.”
Other aspects of the stabilization plan, consisting mostly of cuts to expenses, should save the city $4.1 million. Without the layoffs, Westminster still faces a $6.3 million deficit.
One way to close the gap is to simply use the city’s reserves, which total a little over $21 million. Rice noted the reserve fund is there for emergencies, but Diep said using them is irresponsible and wouldn’t solve long-term issues.
“This city will go bankrupt,” he said.
Raising taxes is not a realistic option in Westminster, as the mayor and all four council members have said they don’t want to burden the public. During the meeting, Rice did remind the council of Fry’s earlier suggestion to float a long-term bond.
Cutting salaries across the board is also not feasible at this time. While the council did approve cuts to non-represented employees, saving $211,000, it cannot impose cuts on represented employees until current contracts expire in 2014.
Bringing back layoffs is still an option, as it is unclear how Fry would have voted on the issue. So while some city employees might see Wednesday’s vote as a victory, it could be short-lived.
Fry missed his second-straight meeting due to illness. The longtime councilmember has congestive heart failure according to a member of city staff.
“He is in the hospital in intensive care,” Rice said, “but he is getting better.”