Brief Budget Study Session Yields Bombshells
In what may be the shortest City Council Study Session ever, this afternoon the Costa Mesa City Council heard all they needed from Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent on the city's mid-year budget performance in 45 minutes flat! Actually, it would have been much shorter but for Mayor Jim Righeimer's direction near the end. More on that in a minute.. wait for it.
You can read the staff report HERE, which also includes links to some very interesting attachments. I covered those and provided specific links in my previous entry, but here they are again: (Just click on the name)
1. Analysis and Recommended Uses of the FY2012-13 Surplus
2. Mid-year Budget Report Summary—General Fund
3. General Fund Revenue Chart
4. Budget to Actual Analysis—General Fund Revenues
5. General Fund Total Expenditure Chart
6. General Fund Salary & Benefit Chart
7. Budget to Actual Analysis—General Fund Expenditures
8. Contingency Funds
As you can see from the photo, the crowd was "sparse" - a kind way of saying that virtually nobody gives a rat's rear end about the condition of our finances. Only four residents showed up. They, plus sixteen city staffers and two journalists, were in the auditorium . I counted myself as a resident. Councilmember Wendy Leece was absent. Unfortunately, this is pretty typical of these kind of meetings. In years past when Allan Roeder would conduct a "Community Budget Workshop" following the approval of a budget there would typically be three or four residents in attendance. This meeting was televised live on CMTV, but the recorded version is not yet posted.
However, the most interesting part of the evening for me came at the end, right around 5:00, as council members chimed in with their thoughts. CEO Tom Hatch, when pressed for more details on issues, kind of acted like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan challenged him to produce some specifics on a few issues. Monahan said he wanted, "hard numbers, not hunches."
OPENED MOUTH, FORGOT TO ENGAGE BRAIN
Then Righeimer began his little exposition by starting with this sentence fragment, "The City is fifty-some years old..." Really? After all the turmoil about the 60th Anniversary Celebration and he still doesn't know how old the City is?! How is it possible that he can be so vacuous? Good grief! He just keeps on having these "Linda Blair" moments - he opens his mouth and out comes his stream-of-consciousness "guacamole".
INCREASE FEES AND CREAT NEW ONES!
Now that he had my attention he went on to tell us that he wanted us to consider increasing Park Fees and Planning fees and establish Undergrounding Impact Fees and a Library Impact Fee - all of which would be levied on developers who come before the city to build stuff! Yep, that's what he said! In fact, I'm going to paraphrase him - you can check it when the video feed is available - he said, "As the economy goes up we need to put a little drag on that." - meaning take advantage of developer interest in the city to squeeze more dollars out of them - which, of course, would just be passed on to buyers of their homes, etc. I guess that's his strategy to attract young families to the city - slap so many developer fees on new homes that only the rich can afford them.
UNDERGROUNDING - DOA THEN AND NOW
That "Undergrounding Fee" is interesting. Those who pay attention will recall that former Mayor Allan Mansoor also floated that scheme - to underground all utilities throughout the city - a few years back. At the time, based on numbers from the utilities involved, it was projected to cost in excess of a half billion dollars! A couple years later that estimate was bumped up to a cool Billion! I can't even begin to guess at what it might be now. And that was just the city costs - the homeowners would have to pay for the utilities to go from the street to their homes. Righeimer prattled on about a "utility districts" - like Newport Beach has done in the past. Well, that idea was also blasted out of the water several years ago and it sure isn't going to fly now. I'm getting very tired of him trying to morph Costa Mesa into Newport Beach or Irvine with his elitist, let-them-eat-cake attitude. If that's what he wanted when his political career stalled in Fountain Valley (that means when the voters rejected him) he should have moved into one of those cities, not Costa Mesa.
MOVE THE LIBRARY TO THE COMMUNITY CENTER
More on that "Library Impact Fee"... he also said that he wants to set aside "a couple hundred thousand" to investigate the possibility of moving the Donald Dungan Library at Lions Park into the Neighborhood Community Center - which he implied was underutilized with "a few meetings and birthday parties on the weekends", and then use the current site of the library as a "nice, round meeting room". Now, that's one of the strangest things I've ever heard him say - and that's saying a lot! It's my understanding that booking space at the Neighborhood Community Center has been very difficult lately. Monahan chimed in to say that it should be a state-of-the-art library with heavy emphasis on computers, etc. The only reason I can think of for Righeimer to want to basically shut down the Neighborhood Community Center is because it provides a venue for discussion of important issues - and those discussions never work in his favor.
HAS HE LOST HIS MIND?
So, in a year where we anticipate Righeimer will run for re-election, today he - theoretically a conservative Republican - advocated for the establishment of two (2) brand new assessments and increasing several others. I'm not sure if he has completely lost his mind, but he's sure going to lose support of his pals in the OC GOP by recommending fee increases! Who knows - maybe we're witnessing political suicide...
This is going to be a VERY interesting year in Costa Mesa...