Budget and Council Priorities
Tuesday afternoon's Costa Mesa City Council Study Session, which normally would run for a couple hours beginning at 4:30, ran an hour longer, but it didn't seem that long to those of us who stuck around until the bitter end.
USUAL SUSPECTS GRIPE
Following public comments in which one local gadfly echoed his recent blog rant about the city "giving field use for free" to groups from outside the city (Santa Ana) and self-anointed budget expert Judi Berry challenging Sales Tax numbers and observing the early draw-down of the City Attorney budget ( she speculated it was because of all the "secret meetings" held during the year), City Manager Allan Roeder took the lead on the first topic - the budget. At least there was not a single mention of "dog poop" bags - a thread that permeated the last council meeting.
ROEDER AND YOUNG LEAD THE BUDGET DISCUSSION
Roeder told us that the numbers about to presented was "the most positive news we've had in some time", but that we shouldn't make any long-term assumptions based on these short term results. He then listed three areas where the City Council and staff must pay particular attention: Infrastructure Reinvestment; Facilities Reinvestment and IT (Information Technology) Reinvestment. He detailed what he meant by each, then passed off the baton to Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young to provide the overview of our current financial status. I covered much of his report in an earlier entry, HERE. You can review that if you like. Suffice it to say that we're not in nearly as deep difficulty as might have been anticipated six months ago. Based on a solid plan, implemented more than two years ago and massaged as circumstances dictated, plus the cooperation of the employee associations, we are within $1.5 million of having a balanced budget. That goal is within reach if certain assumptions about revenue streams and impact of other cost savings measures come to fruition.
HATCH DEFINED HIS JOB
Assistant City Manager Tom Hatch was a major participant in these discussions, too. He is, as Mayor Gary Monahan described him, "City Manager-in-waiting", and certainly seems primed for the job. Since this was the first study session for the two newest members - Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger - Hatch took some time to define his view of the City Manager's office within city government, indicating that the office was responsible for Policy Formation, Implementation and Leadership. It appears to me that the transition from Roeder to Hatch is going to be nearly seamless.
RULES OF THE ROAD
Roeder, Hatch, City Attorney Kim Barlow and City Clerk Julie Folcik then presented information to the council dealing with the "rules of the road". Items discussed included: Motions, Appeals, Rehearings and Rules of Order; Regulations regarding Regular Meetings, Special Meetings, Emergency Meetings, Closed Sessions and Study Sessions; Overview of the Agenda Process; Placing Items on the Council Agenda; Processing Constituent Requests and Complaints.
Monahan then reviewed the committee assignments for each council member. The list is long, but will soon be available for review on the city web site.
A highlight of the meeting for me was the discussion of Setting Priorities and Strategic Planning. Roeder and Hatch led this discussion, with Roeder setting the tone by indicating that the city needs to have a well-defined list of priorities on which to base all other actions, including budgeting. After the discussion Monahan summed up the issues to be discussed further at either a regular council meeting or a future study session. Other council members chimed in to reinforce this list with further comments. Those were, in no particular order:
1 - Establishment of a 5-year Plan.
2 - Creation of a Budget Subcommittee (which may include resident members).
3 - Establishment of an Economic Development sub-committee, to flesh-out the needs and methods to get there.
4 - A complete review and re-organization of Policies and Procedures.
5 - A review of our Information Technology (IT) organization and policies with a goal if improving productivity and service.
6 - A review of Park use and Recreation Programs, including Youth Sports.
7 - Moving forward with the Homeless Task Force.
8 - Reviewing the "Motel" problem - the drug and crime issues which seem to surround some of our seedier motels. Some suggested this be included in the Homeless Task Force - an idea which was rejected.
9 - General Plan Update, which is due this year.
Observations from the meeting tonight:
Steve Mensinger knew enough to keep a low profile this time around.
Jim Righeimer set the tone for further moves on the budget when he used such expressions as "budget trickery" when referring to the Equipment Replacement policy and pulling numbers out of the air while trying to define the "New Normal" when referring to the budget. He also cut Bobby Young off when the answers he was giving to specific questions didn't fit his agenda. We're going to have to keep a close eye on him in the future since it's clear that patience is not one of his attributes.
There are many "great unknowns" when it comes to our budget. Among them is the impact of any plan Governor Jerry Brown may have for pensions state-wide and what might be an attack on Redevelopment Agency funds. As is always the case, we are very much at the mercy of the bureaucrats in Sacramento when it comes to our budget matters.
The passage of Measure "L", the 2% increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), looks like a pretty good idea. Revenues from that area are up and are projected to rise even more. This was long-overdue. Now, about that Business License Fee...
Although we do not yet have the Christmas numbers, it appears that Sales Tax revenues are up, particularly from South Coast Plaza. Those numbers will be available late in March - they trail by a quarter. Still, projections are solidly positive.
This meeting will become part of the viewing rotation on CMTV, Channel 24 on Time Warner Cable and Channel 99 on ATT UVerse. It will also be available for viewing on streaming video on the city website. The next council meeting is next Tuesday, the 18th, following the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, the 17th. No agenda is yet available for that meeting, but it will likely include some of the issues discussed this afternoon and evening, which will make it worth watching.