Homeless And Budget Discussed
Early or late, almost any meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council these days proves to be entertaining. The Special Study Session held in council chambers beginning at 4:30 ended precisely at 7:00 and was, indeed, entertaining. It was also very frustrating at times.
POOR ATTENDANCE AND SHORT ATTENTION SPANS
First, Eric Bever failed to show up. I guess, in his words, he "didn't sign up for this". Then Mayor Gary Monahan bailed out at 6:00 p.m. for some more important engagement following the first segment, the Homeless Task Force report, leaving barely a quorum. Then, a half hour later, the sometimes very obtuse Steve Mensinger - perhaps influenced by the recent visit of our Australian exchange students - went on a walkabout. He just got up and wandered out of the auditorium without saying a word, leaving Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young frozen in the middle of a word because Mensinger's absence eliminated the quorum. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer called for a short break, leaving those of us left in the audience to chuckle among ourselves. "Clueless" was among the words that popped into my mind. The meeting re-convened five minutes later after Mensinger returned from making his telephone call or his bathroom break - whatever took him out of the room. Hmmm... I guess the world REALLY does revolve around him, after all.
EXCELLENT REPORT, BUT...
The report of by the Homeless Task Force, led by Jeff Mathews and Muriel Ullman, was crisp and excellent. You can read the staff report HERE and the 137 page foundational document HERE. I won't try to re-hash the entire presentation, but will observe that much progress has been made in the year since this Task Force was constituted. Goal have been established and plans to reach them have been formulated. Many new ordinances would have to be created to cover some of those steps.
THE LINGERING PROBLEM...
However, while the council members in attendance were grateful for all the hard work put in by the members and their leadership, one had the impression that they were not fully on-board with some of the things that needed to be accomplished. Perhaps that might have had to do with the lingering problem - after the homeless folks in our city have been sorted out and those who fit the definition created by the task force as "Costa Mesa Homeless" - those for whom support services will be provided - what happens to the remaining homeless people who don't fit the definition, but remain "homeless in Costa Mesa"? There were no good answers to that question, but bus tickets out of town were seriously mentioned.
HATCH CONCERNED ABOUT MAKING IT WORSE
CEO Tom Hatch also expressed some concern that, in the process of implementing the plans, we might might end up only making things worse. The services that would be made available might attract even more homeless folks to our city. It was acknowledged that the weather, proximity to the ocean and services already in place ARE, to use a Mensingerism, "attractants". I agree with that apprehension. It seems entirely logical that if you create even more services and an infrastructure to manage this issue more homeless folks will descend upon our city. This, I fear, is going to be the crack in the foundation of this program that simply must be solved FIRST.
Mensinger, during the discussion of the homeless problem, said one of the strangest things - of many - that I've ever heard him say. He said, "... I really don't think it should be the responsibility of our police department to go solve problems on private property - that's a function of the property owners." You could hear jaws dropping all over the auditorium! I wonder just what his definition of "public safety" actually is? His vision is, apparently, a hoard of private security officers hired by property owners to protect their individual investments. He went on to complain about having to "walk two miles" during a recent police department ride-along, looking for homeless people around businesses.
Before we get too far along here and I completely lose my sense of humor, let me give you a smile or two. As you may recall, Mensinger had anointed himself the "test case" for using electronic devices to replace the costly paper staff reports. He uses his own, personal Ipad instead of a pile of paper. I'm sure we all can see the possible upside of this - saving trees, etc. - but there's a huge downside, too. In Mensinger's case, it's the inability to follow along with the proceedings as he surfs the web and answers emails on the dais. Several of us in the audience heard his incoming email alert - a little "ping" - while he was attempting to follow along. And, at least a couple times, he asked such irrelevant questions that it was clear he had NOT been paying attention. I'm sorry this photo is a little blurry, but I just couldn't resist showing it to you because it shows the reflection of his Ipad in his glasses - a perfect representation of the problem. And, when he wasn't wandering off physically or mentally, he was taking jabs at Wendy Leece. The guy is a real schmuck! (Definition: an obnoxious or contemptible person)
MID-YEAR BUDGET REVIEW
Bobby Young provided a fairly positive report on our Mid-year financial performance. You can read his staff report HERE. He told us that he is cautiously optimistic about the Sales Tax revenues that seem to be bouncing back from the dreary fiscal years of 08/09 and 09/10. The quarter that included last Christmas was up nearly 12% from the same period the previous year. He's projecting "only" just over 5% for the final two quarters of this year - an acknowledged conservative approach, but safe.
TOT AND PROPERTY TAX
The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is also trending upward on a similar track as the Sales Tax revenues are showing. He is projecting just over 2% increase for the final two quarters - again, a very conservative number. He didn't provide an analysis of Property Tax revenues because it seems to be flat and consistent with the budgeted numbers.
Young will be recommending revenue adjustments netting just over $340,000, with five areas adjusted upward and two down. Increases will be recommended for the TOT ($250,000); Cable TV Franchise Fee ($100,000); Solid Waste Hauler Franchise Fees ($250,000); Paramedic Fees - Advanced ($50,000) and Other Miscellaneous Revenues ($41,225). The two downward adjustments, Vehicle Code Violations (-$200,000) and Parking Citations (-$150,000), are directly related to the staff reductions in the Costa Mesa Police Department.
HATCH'S SLUSH FUND
When the budget was approved last June there was a $970,000 "contingency fund" created from which CEO Hatch could pluck handfuls of dollars for un-budgeted items as they occurred. After a short discussion about one significant item that appeared to be mis-applied to this account, it looks like the City has spent a little more than half of this amount - $545,273 - in the first half of the fiscal year.
RIGHEIMER'S "OVERTIME" TIRADE
Righeimer went off on a mini-tirade about overtime costs. It seems the Employee Compensation Report was just made available, HERE, and he was, once again, ranting about the greedy public safety folks and their darn budget-busting overtime costs. He pointed out that "a couple of them earned over $100,000 in overtime". Well, I've gone over that report a couple times and I only see one. You can take a look yourself...
COUNCIL POLICIES CAUSE THIS PROBLEM
The problem here is that it is the policies of this council that caused this overtime to be worked! They've refused to let the Fire Department hire any new employees unless they agree to re-open their contract and accept a second tier for their retirement. So, in order to provide for public safety, firefighters and their commanders MUST work overtime to cover the shifts.
CMPD STAFFING EDICT AND OVERTIME REIMBURSEMENT
In the case of the Police Department, Righeimer conveniently ignores that fact that they've refused to allow proper staffing, limiting it to 131 sworn officers (including 5 paid for with grant funding for 5 years) when all credible sources that they've contracted with for their expertise tells us that there should be AT LEAST another dozen officers for MINIMUM staffing. He also conveniently ignored that much of the overtime they show on their compensation report is money reimbursed to the city by events like the Orange County Fair, the Barrett-Jackson auction, etc. Nah, they won't talk about that because it doesn't fit their personal agenda. Instead, Righeimer portrays the public safety staff as a bunch of selfish, greedy laggards, interested only in retiring.
LEGAL METER SPINNING
The area of greatest concern to me - and a few members in the audience - was the planned request to nearly double the amount in the Self Insurance Fund, from $932,008 to $1,832,008. This fund is where dollars are plucked from to pay litigation expenses. As most know, we've been blowing through that fund like proverbial drunken sailors now that the pricey law firm, Jones Day, is on board trying to quash the lawsuit filed by the employees to stop the outsourcing scheme.
WHERE'S JONES DAY JANUARY BILL?
Wendy Leece wondered where the January numbers were for Jones Day, since it seems their charges for January don't show up anywhere. Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte told her that he had the bills for review and approval and that they would be processed for payment shortly. You can read the legal bills paid so far this year HERE.
ADJUSTMENTS WILL BE MADE IN MARCH
The requests for budget adjustments will be presented to the council for action at the second meeting in March, according to Young.
As an aside, I finally got a copy of the 5-year Forecast spreadsheet that was the result of the exercise a few weeks ago when Righeimer and others simply plucked numbers out of the air instead of doing any kind of even rudimentary analysis and plugged those fabrications in five years out. The way things work with these guys, those numbers will soon be cast in concrete and be the working "bible" for all municipal financial activities even though a chimpanzee could have come up with something just as valid. That form is NOT available online yet, but I'll give you the link when it is.
IT'S GOING TO BE A BLOODBATH!
Maybe, if you're a marginally skilled developer, you can get away with that kind of capricious fiscal management because, theoretically, you can just raise your prices if you have a shortfall. In municipal fiscal management, where a balanced budget is critical, your options are limited and usually involve cutting costs. "Costs" means people because that's where the bulk of the dollar are spent. I guarantee you that, if this crew stays on the council and based on what they've conjured up for the next five years, Righeimer's outsourcing scheme is only the beginning. It's going to be a bloodbath! The T-shirt Billy Folsom wore to the council meeting last week for the recognition of his 30 years with the city was right on the money. It read, "Ready, Fire, Aim" - an acknowledgment of the way these guys operate. It's a heck of a way to run a city.