Expenditures And Real Objectives Revealed
Things became a little clearer Tuesday evening as the Costa Mesa City Council continued to discuss the Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget. Following a thorough discussion of the Revenue side of the ledger last Tuesday, tonight they were prepared to dive into the Expenditures - how we actually spend the money we take in.
YOUNG GUIDES THE DISCUSSION
Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young again guided the discussion, using a PowerPoint presentation to present highlights and other bits of relevant information - he did not try to go over the Preliminary Budget line by line... we' be there until next Friday if that was the case.
ALMOST A BALANCED BUDGET
CEO Tom Hatch provided a memo that was, literally, hot off the presses this afternoon that outlined additional cuts in the budget not reflected in the original document, which had projected the need to use $3.3 million of Fund Balance to produce a balanced budget. This new letter reflected an additional $2.4 million in savings, leaving a balance of $900,000 to be found to end up with a balanced budget without the use of the Fund Balance - something that has not happened in years.
CHOPPING THE "RENT"
Among those items Hatch included in that memo was a $1.9 million reduction in the amount charged to "Internal Rent - Replacement" charges. He also reduced from $500,000 to $300,000 for consulting support for a General Plan update. Part of the assumption here was that this process will be a long one, so the remainder could be budgeted in the next fiscal year.
USING DRUG BUST CASH
He also reduced the allocation for a new computer-aided dispatch system by $283,000 by planning to use funds from the Narcotic Asset Forfeiture fund instead of General Fund dollars.
He also cut almost $40,000 from the Aquatics programming for the winter months, primarily impacting lap swim hours and swim lessons. Combined with the loss of revenue from the pool of around $10,000 the savings is right at $30,000.
TIPPING THEIR HANDS
A few things came into sharper focus last night as the four council members - Gary Monahan was a no-show, but Eric Bever finally showed up after having been AWOL the past two meetings - discussed this segment of the budget. For one thing, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer tipped his hand when, during the discussion of equipment replacement costs, he impatiently instructed the staff to "come up with the head count reductions and let's get on with this". Near the end of the meeting he said, "I will never vote for anything that will increase crime.", and yet he's already done that by voting to dissolve the ABLE helicopter program and creating the atmosphere that is chasing highly skilled and trained police officers to other cities like they were running out of a burning building.
LEGAL FEES UNDER-BUDGETED?
Several speakers, once again, made excellent points and asked some tough questions. Budget watchdog Judi Berry asked why the budget for legal costs was $703,000 when we are presently being billed at the rate of over $100,000 per month? Hatch replied that they were looking into it and that he hoped we wouldn't see those kind of charges into the next fiscal year - even though he already added $100,000 to the budget beyond their original estimate. This was an interesting counterpoint to the memo released last week that told us we were saving tons of money by using a contract City Attorney.
RDA FUNDS AND STAFF LEVELS TODAY?
Perry Valantine wondered about the reasoning for refusing to use the $1.4 million in Redevelopment Agency Funds and also brought up the Business License Fees. He also asked just what the head count was for the city staff today. Young replied that we currently have 30 vacancies, 9 of which will not be in the new budget, leaving 21. The authorized head count in the proposed budget is 486, so that means we've got only 465 staff members at this moment in time.
TAX MEDICAL MARIJUANA?
Speaker Sue Lester, former council candidate and a medical marijuana dispensary operator, asked if the City had considered some kind of a tax on the sales of her product as a revenue source. The answer was no, but that staff would look into it. She also mentioned increasing the Business License Fees and suggested that a comparison of Nordstrom's Costa Mesa license costs to other stores in the chain might be enlightening. She implied that she might have access to that information and would provide it to the council.
ABLE HAS THE CASH
Robin Leffler wondered why it was necessary to dissolve ABLE when it apparently has enough cash on hand to operate for two years. She also brought up the need to consider an increase in the Business License Fees. Later Steve Mensinger pointed out that Nordstrom's and Nordstrom Rack combined are number 5 in sales tax revenue in the city, and that we shouldn't be hasty in trying to increase their Business License fees and risk the sales tax revenue. Does he really think Nordstrom's would pull out of the city if their Business License cost them $1,000 instead of $200? C'mon, Steve!
HEAPING PRAISE - AND MORE WORK
In his comments at the end Mensinger heaped praise on Young and the staff for the work they've been doing on the budget. I had to smile because just in the course of this brief meeting he continued to pile more demands on them, causing shifting priorities while the staff is attempting to produce a balanced budget within the next 30 days. Hard as it may be to imagine, but he just keeps throwing "little" assignments at them like he was instructing Pop Warner footballers to run some wind sprints. He actually seems to be oblivious to the demands he's putting on the staff. Heck, maybe he just doesn't care...
NEW LA TIMES ARTICLE TONIGHT
Another interesting development occurred while I was at the meeting. The Los Angeles Times, via reporter Catherine Saillant, published an article that will appear in print Wednesday titled, "Republicans promote Costa Mesa as a pension-slashing leader", which you can read HERE. It's an especially interesting piece when you consider that the ONLY way the focus of the article, Jim Righeimer, can actually affect pensions in Costa Mesa is by firing many of those who will eventually receive them. His frustration about that fact was evident at the meeting tonight.
BAUGH - "COSTA MESA IS GROUND ZERO"
Saillant quotes Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh as saying, "Costa Mesa is ground zero for cities." That observation is not new to those of us following things here in our city, but Baugh uses it in the much broader context of national and state difficulties with pensions. Our city is the tip of the lance in the national pension battle, even though nothing of substance can be accomplished during Righeimer's tenure on the council. All he can do is throw folks out the door and pound his chest. He cannot affect pension reform unless the bargaining units agree to sit down and discuss it. So far, he doesn't seem interested.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS ANNOUNCED
Hatch announced the schedule for the remainder of this fiscal year - June - for the budget. It is anticipated that the council will have a balanced budget ready for a vote on June 21st, with the 28th as a backup, drop dead date. There will be scheduled meetings every Tuesday from now until the 21st.