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Cityhood hangs on finances

If voters approve the incorporation of Rossmoor, they must also pass a new utility tax to help keep the community self-sufficient.

October 19, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Rossmoor, the tidy 1950s-era community bordered by a red brick wall, could become the second-smallest city in Orange County -- Villa Park is the tiniest -- if residents vote to incorporate on Election Day.

At issue is whether the sliver of suburb with 10,500 residents can support itself financially with one small retail center.

If voters approve cityhood, a majority must also support either a 7% or 9% utility tax to help keep the city afloat.

Supporters contend that cityhood means greater local control and improvements in services such as law enforcement.

Opponents argue that the community works well the way it is and cityhood imposes a bigger burden on taxpayers.

"Our retail tax is so low that it puts us in jeopardy just to even try" to become a city, said Jim Alexander, of the , which is working against cityhood.

The neighborhood's lone commercial area generated about $317,000 in sales tax revenue for the 2006-07 fiscal year, according to a fiscal analysis(2).pdf by the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees the creation of cities.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 21, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 109 words Type of Material: Correction
Rossmoor vote: An article in the Orange County edition of Sunday's California section about the Rossmoor cityhood vote quoted two individuals on both sides of the issue but left out the names of the organizations they represent. Jim Alexander is from the Rossmoor Preservation Committee, which is working against cityhood. Eric Christensen is co-chairman of the pro-cityhood Committee for Rossmoor Incorporation Now! Also, the article said Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods were incorporated in 2001 and are the newest cities in Orange County. The article was right about Aliso Viejo; but Rancho Santa Margarita -- incorporated in 2000 -- is newer than Laguna Woods, which was incorporated in 1999.

Cityhood backers say larger revenue sources such as property taxes are more stable. They mostly want to see Orange County Sheriff's Department response times -- now twice that of neighboring cities -- decrease under a local contract with the department.

The Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs has paid for lawn signs and mailers against cityhood. "We can't support a utility tax we don't think significantly improves public safety," said association President Wayne Quint Jr.

But for cityhood advocates, "the biggest issue, really, is us taking control of our future," said Eric Christensen, co-chairman of the

Squeezed by Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, Rossmoor's 1.6 square miles is one of the last remaining unincorporated patches in the county, land the county has attempted to divest itself of since its 1994 bankruptcy. In past years, Los Alamitos has tried to annex the area, and in 1965 Seal Beach annexed one of Rossmoor's main shopping centers, a move that some residents still resent.

Rossmoor, founded by Leisure World developer Ross Cortese, is governed by five elected community service district board members. They manage a $1-million budget that covers park maintenance, street sweeping and lighting.

Only Rossmoor's 7,400 registered voters may vote on Measure U. If a majority votes in favor, the community board would be dissolved and replaced with a new City Council made up of the top five vote-getters on the same ballot.

All five Rossmoor board members plus three other residents are running for the first-ever council.

Cityhood for Rossmoor is "a much better management model," said Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach, whose district includes the community. (Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods, both incorporated in 2001, are the county's newest cities.)

The new city, which would be incorporated Jan. 1, would have $4.1 million in projected expenditures its first fiscal year -- including nearly 10 new full-time city employees -- and an annual general fund surplus averaging about $150,000, according to a report by the Orange County formation commission. According to the commission, the county subsidized $600,000 in services to Rossmoor in the last fiscal year.


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