Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Council Gives Staff Go Ahead On Budget Scheme

During a surprisingly brief meeting Tuesday evening the Costa Mesa City Council gave the staff unanimous approval (Gary Monahan was absent - probably out stringing up another illegal sign to match the new on hanging on his pub) to proceed with the 7 point plan presented to them for consideration. You can review those seven items by reading my last post, and click on the links to the staff report and the list of vacancies provided within it, too.

None of the council members offered solutions to the immediate problem of balancing the current fiscal year budget, but a couple gave us a hint of how they will be thinking as the 2010/2011 budget is deliberated within the next few months.

Wendy Leece, for example, suggested we take a close look at the Airborne Law Enforcement program (ABLE). It currently costs the city well over $2 million a year to operate and we share costs with Newport Beach and Santa Ana. She suggested we look at ways to cut back service - and costs, and also recommended seeking out other partners.

She also suggested that we more aggressively ticket cars parked on streets where sweeping is scheduled as a revenue source enhancement.

She also used an interesting, but not original, term - "There are no sacred cows". I found myself thinking it was a curiously ironic statement to make, considering her penchant for frequently overlaying her personal religious beliefs on the proceedings and in light of the brand new "In God We Trust" sign hanging on the wall behind her. Certainly, Wendy, there are some sacred cows! Yeah, I know... she didn't mean it that way, but she's such an easy target that I just had to say it! I think the fact that she seems willing to consider EVERYTHING to balance the budget is significant.

During the deliberations City Manager Allan Roeder, who teamed up with Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young for the presentation, made the following statements. In response to a suggestion that, to balance the budget, layoffs might be in the near future he said, "Layoffs are a consequence, not a strategy." He meant that, since roughly 70% of our municipal budget is made up of salaries and benefits, layoffs - while a logical choice - would only be used if no other methodology to reduce costs could be found. He went on to say, "Our first priority is to serve the public." Anyone who has ever worked with him knows that he means that with every fiber of his being.

I thought it was interesting that, when Katrina Foley asked him how he planned to deal with the loss of two senior staffers in his own office - one third of his staff - he acknowledged that both he Assistant City Manager Tom Hatch were busily re-learning old skills and some new ones, too. He seemed unwilling to request the council permit him to fill either of the vacancies created by utilization of the early retirement plan.

Of course, The Mouth From Mesa North stood before the council a couple times last night to berate them for the terrible job they were doing of balancing the budget. Little credit was given to the staff for the plans they suggested earlier in the year that resulted in savings in excess of $22 million! No, The Mouth - the guy who just likes to hear himself talk - used his alloted time to chide, scold and insult the council and offered no constructive solutions. What a windbag that guy is!

One thing was clear after the discussion was held and the vote was taken - there is no flesh left on our municipal skeleton. Any future cuts will mean losing a limb. Both Eric Bever and Leece asked Roeder to come back to them with a list of non-essential services for them to consider. That is going to be a very, very interesting list.


On a much more positive note, early in the meeting Parks and Recreation Chairman Kurt Galitski presented a letter from the local AYSO group committing over $180,000 toward lighting fields 5 and 6 at The Farm Sports Complex! This is a terrific gesture, but was met with muted enthusiasm, to say the least. Thanks to the good folks of AYSO for their concern and for their money.

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