The Faces Of The Budget Dilemma
FULL HOUSE, PASSIONS ON DISPLAY
Costa Mesa's study session Tuesday afternoon and evening was memorable for many reasons. First of all, due to the huge turnout, it was moved from Conference 1A to the City Council chambers. Second, even though speakers were permitted only 2 minutes each, it took 38 minutes to dispense with all those who chose to address the council. Many of those speakers were city employees... more on that later. You can watch the streaming video of the study session HERE.
MOVED THE AGENDA ITEMS FORWARD
Recognizing that most of the folks in the audience were there to hear about the budget, the council wisely moved the two agenda items dealing with that subject to the front of the line.
Grant Administrator Lynda Jenkins spoke in defense of her job, one of those on the list for elimination. She explained that she had been responsible for more than $5 million in grants. She expressed concern that positions that are revenue generators were being cut. She requested a review of council policy 300-1, to see if some modification can be made to provide medical benefits for those laid off.
Similarly, City Buyer Don Stocker, another employee with a job in jeopardy, stood at the podium and quantified the value of his position and criticized the process by which the positions recommended for removal were determined.
Fire Protection Analyst Susan Guzetta, a single mother of two and candidate for layoff, reminded the council that within the last year she brought before them an array of fees that, if they had been adopted, would have paid for the fire prevention bureau. Her department will lose 60% of it's personnel over the next few months.
Officer Kelly Benjamin, who said she works the front desk at the Police Department and whose job apparently is NOT in jeopardy, spoke with passion on behalf of those who she said were afraid to speak out. She recommended charging for ticket sign-offs and increasing the charge for police reports. (An interesting sidebar - I attempted to contact Benjamin today to compliment her on her passionate presentation and ran up against a Police Department firewall. Twice I was refused the opportunity to speak with her - the message that was relayed to me was that she was "forbidden" to speak with me - and was referred to Lt. Bryan Glass, or rather, his voice mail. Three hours later and I'm still awaiting his call.) UPDATE: As timing would have it, Lt. Glass called me five minutes after I published this. He told me that Benjamin certainly was not "forbidden" to speak with me or anyone else, and that her comments are viewed as very positive by the Police Department. I accept his explanation and asked him to relay my thoughts to Benjamin.
Nearly a dozen people rose to speak on behalf of Animal Control Officer Yolanda Macias, whose job is on block.
Parks and Recreation Chairman Mike Brumbaugh stood to offer his concerns for public safety if the proposed staff reductions are imposed.
Resident Mike Berry offered the observation that the entire budget shortfall could be resolved if the city could simply convince every employee to share the cost of their retirement and medical benefits by paying half the cost. That may be true, but the term "fat chance" pops to mind.
His spouse and perpetual budget watchdog, the perky Judi Berry, presented charts showing revenue decline and suggested a 10% across the board pay cut.
Larry Likens, president of one of the city employee associations, rose to express chagrin that no one from the City had contacted his organization about possible participation in a resolution of the financial problems. I guess I was surprised, too, if that's a fact. He indicated that there is a lot of resentment among the employees. Gee, Larry, no kidding!
Community activist Cindy Brenneman expressed the personal loss to be experienced by the departure of the positions in question. She recommended raising the Business License Fees and the TOT.
ROEDER LAYS IT OUT
City Manager Allan Roeder led off the presentation of the budget by stating, "Today is the presentation of the preliminary budget for 2010/2011 and I can tell you that the presentation we make today is unlike any in this city's history." Later he said, "We have been reducing the budget, every element in the budget, for the better part of the last three years. We have used every trick, every tool in the book, to possibly reduce the cost of government without reducing services and without laying off employees. We take a lot of pride in accomplishing that." He said, "We've not raised taxes in the past twenty years. I don't think there's another public agency in this state that can make that claim."
"NO GOOD CHOICES"
Roeder told the council that the management and supervision of the city does not take any pride in presenting this budget. He said, "There are no good choices in the budget before you."
RESERVES DANGEROUSLY LOW
He went on to explain the recent history of how the city got to it's current situation and mentioned that, over the past three years, it has been necessary for the city to draw down it's reserves by nearly $35 million to a point where the welfare of the city is in jeopardy if further reductions are made. He explained that declining revenues are the culprit, including a decline in Property Tax revenues for the first time in his memory.
BUDGET IS A STARTING POINT
He affirmed that the budget being presented at that time is simply a point to begin the discussion and debate. He said, "This is not a budget like any budget we've presented in years past." He stated that, "..the ability to find other areas of a non-personnel nature to cut in this budget are going to be next to impossible."
LAYOFFS A CONSEQUENCE, NOT A STRATEGY
Roeder, his throat tightening with emotion, said, "This is something each of us takes extremely personally. It is not a business decision, and as I've said, layoffs are not a budget strategy, they are a financial consequence."
BAD NEWS IN DETAIL
Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young then took over and gave an overview of the preliminary 2010/2011 budget. You can read and/or download the entire 230+page preliminary budget on the city web site HERE. The preliminary operating budget dropped by 1%, to $110,715,911. The capital improvement budget is down 22.46%.
WHERE THE MONEY GOES
Young said 52% of the appropriations are allocated to protection of persons and property - fire and police,etc. 73% of the appropriations are salaries and benefits.
$16.4 MILLION SHORT
Since the General Fund makes up 87% of the budget, Young focused that segment. Comparing projected 2010/2011 revenues to expenses we end up with a General Fund deficit of $16.4 million.
COMMUNITY BRIEFING PENDING
Young indicated that, two days following the council's budget study session, there is a Community Budget Briefing on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in Conference Room 1A and that the Public Hearing and Adoption of the budget will take place on Tuesday, June 15, 2010.
ROEDER - LAYOFFS ONLY GET US HALF WAY
Roeder, in a preamble to the prioritization exercise, indicated that the recommended reductions presented to the council tonight only gets the city about half-way. They would result in a savings of $8.4 million. That leaves $8 million left to attempt to reconcile. He indicated that they were looking at shifting expenses to the Redevelopment Agency where legally possible, even though the State just raided Redevelopment Agency funds again last week. He also said communications are proceeding with each of the employee bargaining units. From my view, it's unlikely that those communications will result in enough savings to save jobs, though.
TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY...
The meeting went on for another 90 minutes - three hours total. If you're really interested in how this meeting went, click on that link I provided to you and hear what each speaker and council member had to say for yourself. To paraphrase Meredith Wilson's lyrics from the musical "Music Man", we got trouble right here in River City, er, Costa Mesa and there are no easy solutions this year. Stay tuned.
Labels: Budget Woes