Strap Yourself In - It's Budget Time
Once again the Costa Mesa City Council made for interesting viewing last night.
BUDGET PRESENTED TO THE COUNCIL LAST NIGHT
City Manager Allan Roeder provided a confirmation of the budget schedule. He placed the budget into the council's hands at the end of the meeting. It will be available for review on the city web site by the end of the day today and in libraries and at City Hall for resident review by the end of the week.
STUDY SESSION ON JUNE 9TH
There will be a council study session at 4:30 on Tuesday, June 9th in Conference Room 1A, City Hall, at which time public comments will be gathered and the council will have a chance to be briefed on the budget. Roeder then told them that he will schedule an "adjourned" council meeting immediately thereafter so the council will have a method of giving the staff direction on the budget. Direction may not be provided during a study session.
PUBLIC WORKSHOP ON JUNE 11TH
There will be a public budget workshop on Thursday, June 11, but the time and venue have not been firmed up. In years past it was conducted in Conference Room 1A at City Hall.
FINAL BUDGET VOTE ON JUNE 16TH
The council will, hopefully, vote on the final budget at their meeting on June 16th. If they get hung up there will still be a couple weeks in which to work out the problems. (See Roeder comments below)
MANSOOR - INFLEXIBLE DENSENESS
Once again the proposals by the Fire Department for new revenue sources received rough treatment by some of the council members. Our young jailer (is he still a jailer?)/mayor, Allan Mansoor, demonstrated that he's more than willing to let the fiscal well-being of our city and residents take a back seat to his own personal political dogma. During the discussion of the EMS fees Mansoor demonstrated, once again, that he's about half-a-brain short! He seems perpetually unable to follow even the most slightly complex issue.
BEVER - A NEAR-TERM HERO
To the cheers of many residents, Eric Bever brought the EMS fee issue back to the council for re-consideration. After a lengthy discussion and input from many residents the council voted unanimously to overturn their last vote and reject the EMS fee plan. This means the city will now have to find ways to cut around $900,000 from the budget... We'll see how long Bever's halo continues to shine after the budget is finally approved.
RESOLUTION OPPOSING FAIRGROUNDS SALE
Near the end of the meeting Roeder presented a resolution opposing the sale of the Orange County Fair and Exposition Center property - something the governor has suggested, along with many other state properties, to balance the state budget. The Fairgrounds generates more than $185 million in revenue each year.
BUDGET PRESENTED IN PLAIN, WHITE WRAPPER
At the end of the meeting, just before 10 p.m., Roeder presented the proposed budget - significantly, in a plain, white cover this year - to the council and encouraged them to take their copies with them.
NEAR-SIGHTED COUNCIL HAS TROUBLE AHEAD
Keep in mind that, with the actions the council took tonight declining the proposals of the Fire Department for additional revenue sources, they effectively removed about $1.25 million from the budget. That means more cuts to balance the budget.
ROEDER SETS THE SCENE
I've been writing about this for months because I've spent a good deal of time talking with members of the Finance Department staff and others so I have had a pretty good idea of just how deep a hole our city is in. But don't believe me. Let me quote City Manager Allan Roeder as he closed his presentation of the budget to the council tonight. First he told them, "... we are going to have to make some decisions..." implying that they will be hard decisions.
ALL TAXES BARELY COVERS PUBLIC SAFETY
Roeder went on to say, "If you took all the property taxes this city collects it's less than half what it takes to fund just the police and fire. If we did nothing else in this city - no streets, no parks, no open space, no recreation - property tax alone would be less than half of what's required for police and fire alone. If you took all of your property tax and all of your sales tax it just barely covers those two departments. And those are the departments you task to protect people, to provide the very important emergency medical services we talked about this evening so those are not areas, I would submit to you, ah, that are good candidates for cutting back on what we just heard this evening are essential services."
DID YOU GET THAT?
Are you paying attention? I hope those statements got your attention, because that's what our elected leaders and the staff will be dealing with over the next two weeks. Roeder's not kidding around with this stuff. There will be no surgical trimming of the budget this year - it's meat cleaver time.
WE'VE ALREADY MADE DEEP CUTS
During council member comments, in response to a question by Katrina Foley about how much has already been cut out of the budget, Roeder told the council that, "...the plan that we brought to you on April 14th, the one that you approved, slightly less than 90% of the $19 million plus that must be reduced to balance the budget is all cuts." He went on to describe the other 10%, roughly $1 million in additional funding - grants and the like - that will contribute to balancing the budget. Again, in response to a question by Foley, he affirmed that this is in addition to nearly $8 million in cuts made at the mid-year budget review.
THIS COUNCIL LACKS FORESIGHT
This council has demonstrated an unwillingness to consider new funding sources as presented to them. It has chosen not to put the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) and the Business License fees on the ballot for voters to consider for possible increases. It perpetuated the RRIP program last year when it was clear that the city was heading for rough water budget-wise. That program has cost the city coffers well over $1 million over the past three years.
BLOODY BATTLES AHEAD
Neighbors, the next two weeks are probably going to be the bloodiest in recent memory. When the council votes for a new budget in two weeks there will be many, many unhappy people in our town. The employees will probably be the most unhappy because salaries and benefits are where we spend the bulk of our money - nearly 75% - so they are the logical places to look for cuts. Most residents have their own pet projects they don't want to see de-funded, but unless something magic happens over the next fortnight we will be seeing a much smaller city staff left to deal with our demands for services. It ain't going to be pretty.
BRING YOUR IDEAS
If you've got some great ideas for helping with the budget, get on the horn and call the city staff or a council member. Send them an email or letter or just hike over to City Hall and talk to someone. Attend the study session next Tuesday or the workshop on the 11th. Now's the time to donate your brain to this process because we obviously don't have enough grey matter on the dais to solve the problems.
DON'T TIGHTEN THAT BELT, EAT IT!
Some folks seem to think this year our city will be doing some serious belt-tightening. Actually, it's probably going to be more like boiling that belt so we'll have something to eat!