Balancing The Budget With Bodies
At its Study Session Tuesday night the Costa Mesa City Council, and those few of us in the audience, heard the staff inform the council that the budget being proposed is balanced by slashing staff. You can read Joe Serna's coverage in the Daily Pilot HERE.
NEARLY $6 MILLION IN THE RED
In a nutshell, under the proposed Budget (All Funds) the City will have estimated revenues of $126,854,473 and proposed expenditures of $132, 676,130, meaning that $5,821,657 of the Fund Balance must be used to meet the proposed obligations.
A GENERAL FUND DEFICIT
Most of the time we just talk about the General Fund Budget. This current budget shows a deficit of nearly $1.2 million. The staff report and attachments, HERE, provides an explanation of how Hatch and his staff plan to balance that segment of the budget. A big part of the problem reaching a balanced budget is the State's decision to close Redevelopment Agencies and raid those funds. It's going to be painful.
For example, the loss of RDA funds means the loss of $660,000 in salary dollars, which will mean the layoff of four (4) individuals plus three (3) others for a total of seven (7) in that area alone.
STAFF LOSSES (AND GAINS)
And, as you will see on Attachment A, seven (7) presently vacant - or soon-to-be-vacant positions will be eliminated. On the bright side, two additional code enforcement positions will be authorized.
HERE'S AN IRONY FOR YOU...
And, the City has decided to abandon the In-House Street Rehabilitation Program to save more than a half million dollars next year. That means three (3) Senior Maintenance Workers will be cut for more than $220,000 in salary and benefit costs and another $334,000 in materials (asphalt) and street grinding costs. CEO Hatch said every effort will be made to find other positions in The City for those folks. Steve Mensinger suggested the two Code Enforcement slots, but it is unlikely that those folks would bring the right skill set to those jobs. It's a great irony that the mantra of the current majority for the past 18 months has been fixing infrastructure and now we slash the in-house crew that does just that. Curious, to say the least. I guess I'll look for campaign contributions from paving companies on certain candidate's forms.
This budget includes more than $20 million in capital projects, representing 15% of the total budget. This, of course, was the goal of this council - to "fix" stuff. And, they're stashing $500,000 aside just in case one of the "problem properties" (motels) comes available. And, of course, they've got another $1 million in Hatch's slush, er, contingency fund again. That's kind of like your piggy bank... if they want a special project done they just direct Hatch to dig into that little pot for some cash.
No mention was made, except by Wendy Leece, about the probable decline in service as a result of this budget. For example, the Costa Mesa Police Department is now running below their current authorized sworn officer strength and, according to Hatch, will immediately launch a recruitment campaign to try to fill open slots. This process, which involves significant expenditure of time for screening and testing PLUS a successful tour in the Police Academy before a new officer can begin functioning, is way, way behind the curve. It takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months from start to finish and we anticipate large numbers of retirements well before that window is closed. AND, according to this council, they can't hire anyone new until a 2nd pension tier is in place... and we're sure not there yet.
FIRE DEPARTMENT, TOO
Same with the Fire Department. Interim Chief Tom Arnold's re-structuring plan sounds very workable - it would reduce the number of firefighters from 87 to 81. However, we are presently nine (9) short, so we'd have to hire three new firefighters to meet that staffing level and we've got the same problem - the council refuses to permit new hires until a 2nd pension tier is in place.
In both those cases, with the CMPD and CMFD, it means more overtime required to provide safe coverage in our city. And, this council just loves to criticize our public safety folks as greedy when they earn large overtime numbers to help keep our city safe. You may recall Steve Mensinger's recent bonehead remark about "Christmas In July" when referring to the overtime our police folks must work to support the Barrett-Jackson Auction and the Orange County Fair. He, and the majority on the council, fail to recognize that our public safety folks would prefer NOT to work all that overtime - they have families that would like to see them occasionally. But, because the council has its heels dug in, overtime is demanded.
"BALANCED" ON LOST BODIES
So, according to Hatch's staff report, the budget will be "balanced" by making the changes he outlined, including eliminating 15 positions. The council will take a final vote on this budget next Tuesday, June 19th.
During the discussion several council members implied that the public safety organizations have refused to sit down and discuss changes in their contracts - specifically the 2nd tier pension plan. This is false, but that doesn't keep them from saying it. And, since two of them will be running for another seat on the council this summer and fall, you can expect that lie to be repeated over and over and over.
JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD IT ALL...
As has been the case at most meetings, one or more of our council members have exhibited ignorance, insensitivity or flat out stupidity in their comments. Last night was no exception.
MENSINGER AND NUMBERS - FAIL!
At one point, when addressing the head-count reduction over the past few years caused by the economic downturn that began in 2008, Mensinger observed that it went from 650 to 450. Of course, Hatch had to correct him. The high head count was 611 a couple years ago and it is now 433 according to staff Monday. But what the heck, Steve, what's a few dozen people one way or the other! Just a little - to use his favorite word - disingenuous, wouldn't you say? Talk about ignorant arrogance!
Following a brief comment by Wendy Leece about being concerned about public safety, Mayor Eric Bever had this exchange with Hatch:
"Mr. Hatch, would you say that this council, to a person, is dedicated to keeping this city safe?"
"I'd, ah, this council obviously more than not will speak for themselves and I would be, ah, I think from my seat as the CEO public safety is vital. We don't, as a management team, we don't see that just as the police department responsibility or a fire department responsibility but the entire organization needs to support the police and fire operations and what they do, how they use more none-sworn personnel or creating a neighborhood improvement task force that looks to solve problems and take them out of the police department's hands and provide a broader level of support to them. The fire department is what the organization can do and we're doing some of those things. We all need to work as a full organization to meet all those needs as we move forward." I loved that last sentence... I smiled...
FEET, ONCE MORE INTO THE MOUTH!
Perhaps the most painfully truthful statement made from the dais last night was appointed councilman Mensinger's observation as he attempted to justify the budget cuts, "I hope the general public understands as they listen to this, the truth is somewhere in between what you hear up here and the document that you're looking at and I think everybody needs to be aware of that." So, if you take what he says at face value, we can't trust the staff NOR the council! Unbelievable! I know he likes to hear himself talk, but truth would be a very nice addition to his rhetoric from time to time.
PRIORITIES SCREWED UP
If this council passes this budget it will be a VERY clear statement to all residents, business owners and visitors to our city that they have chosen to prioritize streets and infrastructure and put public safety on the back burner. I don't know about you folks, but I think they've got their priorities reversed and I fear some of us may suffer because of it. Is that REALLY what YOU want? Crime is already on the rise...