Budget Calamity Has Arrived
Remember that advice folks used to give you, "Hey, quite worrying about it, because things can always be worse!"? Well, neighbors, things just got worse - a whole lot worse.
RUMORS OF STAFF REDUCTIONS
Late Friday afternoon a rumor was passed my way indicating that several members of the City of Costa Mesa staff had been told that, due to severe budget constraints, their jobs will soon be eliminated, and that all City divisions will be holding meetings Monday to discuss the current budget situation with the staff.
"THE ELEPHANT" PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN
Most of us who pay attention to things going on in our town have been very distracted by the activity and controversy swirling around the attempt by our city to acquire the Orange County Fair and Events Center and all the ancillary drama associated with that process. Some of us, though, knew that the real elephant in the room was the budget - this year's budget that's about to expire and the 2010-2011 budget that is about to be formulated. Well, the elephant finally forced the door open for us all to see - and it ain't a pretty sight.
ROEDER WAS RIGHT - BAD TIMES ARE HERE
For more than two years City Manager Allan Roeder and his top staffers have been warning us that, unless something dramatic from a revenue standpoint happened soon, the City of Costa Mesa would be in for some very difficult times and that residents could expect to see serious reductions in service as a result. Those times have arrived.
CREATIVE EFFORTS HELPED 09/10, BUT NOT ENOUGH
During the current 2009/2010 budget year Roeder and the staff created a plan to try to keep us solvent by juggling union contracts, service requirements, enhanced retirement benefits to encourage early retirements and a full array of other solutions to the budget problems we faced. Even with the amazing cooperation by the employee bargaining units and creative, flexible plans by the staff, we will still end up falling $9 million short the way it looks with about six weeks to go.
BAD NEWS TO BE DELIVERED ON TUESDAY
On Tuesday, during the scheduled Study Session, Roeder and Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young will present to the City Council the truly bad news about the 2010-2011 budget. The staff report for those items is available for review on the City website. I'll try to give you a few direct links to some important segments of their presentations below.
BUDGET DOWN ALMOST 1.5%
In a nutshell, the City budget for the year beginning July 1, 2010, will be down almost 1.5% from last year. You can read about it HERE. An attachment to that report which displays a list of vacant full time positions not budgeted in fiscal year 2010-2011 can be read HERE. There are 71 vacant positions that will not be included in next year's budget. Young's revenue projection commentary can be read HERE for the details. All sources of revenue are down dramatically.
PRIORITIZATION OF SERVICES REQUIRED
Part of the plan this year is the need for the City Council to prioritize city services - to make the hard, painful decisions required by the abysmal financial condition we find ourselves in. The staff report on that process can be found HERE. Attachment B of that staff report is entitled, "Programs/Service/Facility Impacts from Recommended Reductions" and can be found HERE. I strongly suggest each of you take the time to read through this document and it's companion, Attachment C, "City of Costa Mesa Prioritization of City Services", HERE.
LIST OF PERSONNEL REDUCTIONS
Perhaps the most painful document you will read is Attachment D, "List of Recommended Personnel Reductions", HERE, which outlines in agonizing specificity, just which positions will be either reduced to Part Time or eliminated completely. Of the 77 positions mentioned, 51 are Full Time slots, 47 of which will be eliminated and 4 will be reduced to Part Time. The remaining 26 positions are Part Time jobs that will be eliminated. This is in addition to the 71 currently vacant unbudgeted positions mentioned above.
HOW SERIOUS IS IT?
How serious is this situation? Well, let's just look at public safety as an example.
FIRE DEPARTMENT REDUCTIONS
In the case of the Fire Department, thirteen (13) positions are on that list of vacant slots that will not appear in the 10/11 budget PLUS another six (6) Full and Part Time positions on the list of recommended reductions for a total of nineteen (19).
POLICE DEPARTMENT REDUCTIONS
In the case of the Police Department, seventeen (17) are on the vacant list and another twenty-nine (29) members of both the sworn and civilian staff, Full and Part Time, are on the list of recommended reductions, for a total reduction of forty-six (46) staff members .
GOT YOUR ATTENTION?
Does that get your attention? Similar draconian cuts are spread throughout the city staff, all of which will result in dramatic reductions in programs and service levels. Things are bad, folks - really bad!
PRIORITIZATION PROCESS - PUBLIC INVITED TO PARTICIPATE
The staff has provided the mechanism for the City Council to prioritize services and staff reductions and also asks the public to perform a similar exercise using the tools provided. The results of both council and community input will be compiled to help the council make the final, difficult decisions when the final budget is approved next month. The deadline imposed on the submissions of these prioritization forms is May 25th.
NO MEAT LEFT ON THE BONES
It has been clear to me for the past nine months that all the flesh had been scraped from the carcass of our city government - that the only thing left was the skeleton. We will now begin the tragic process of dismembering the skeleton, deciding just which appendages can be sacrificed, all the while hoping to retain enough of the framework of our city so it can continue to function.
PAINFUL DECISIONS IMMEDIATELY AHEAD
Over the next few weeks our elected leaders and the City staff will face what will certainly be the most difficult decisions they've had to make during their careers in public service. Some of them are almost too painful to contemplate.
LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE TOT AND BUSINESS LICENSE TAX
However, some of this pain might be avoided if they chose to place two issues on the November ballot - an increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) and the Business License Fees - both of which have been historically at or near the bottom of the list state-wide. No one wants to see tax increases - I sure don't - but the council should give the voters of this city a chance to voice their opinion on these two issues via the ballot. We are being asked to participate in the prioritization process - we should be given a voice in November, too.