A Little Budget Followup
Last Tuesday night the Costa Mesa City Council passed a municipal budget that came in right at $140,000,000 - up 6.33% from the fiscal year that ends ten days. And, the budget is balanced. You can read that staff report HERE. You can also watch the streaming video of the meeting HERE. Just use the "jump to" feature to be taken directly to the beginning of the budget discussion.
JUST UNDER $20 MILLION IN CAPITAL PROJECTS
Part of that budget was $19,421,001 in Capital Improvement Projects - things like street improvements and storm drain replacements and the like. There are 84 projects on the list shown as Attachment 2, HERE. Of those, only 40 were recommended by Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch for inclusion in the new budget based on input from staff, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council during a recent Study Session. Those 40 items are shown highlighted in yellow on that exhibit. Each line item is numbered for easy reference. The far right column shows the recommended items and the funding necessary to complete each one.
MENSINGER'S JUGGLING OF DOLLARS
However, the meeting Tuesday night was the last chance council members had to massage the document. They couldn't increase the budget, but they could suggest shifting dollars and that's exactly what Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger did when, at 02:32.00 on the timer, he suggested that items numbers 3, 4 an 5 be included in the budget. Those items are:
3 - California Avenue Median Improvements - $69,000
4 - Gisler Avenue Parkway Improvements - $100,900
5 - Mesa Verde Drive Median Improvements - $444,000
Those improvements total $613,900.
Sandra Genis found this proposal outrageous - as did many in the audience - because the Mesa Verde Medians have recently been rehabilitated - she specifically mentioned that the new trees are barely taking hold at this point. Mensinger said he wants to see drought tolerant plantings there and, during the discussion, it was not clear if the trees currently in place could be salvaged and, if so, would they tolerate a more arid plant mixture with them.
GUTTING THE LIBRARY FUND
When asked where he would get the money to make those improvements Mensinger said it should come from line #57 - Neighborhood Community Center - Library Development, which is budgeted for $1,000,000. Theoretically, that's seed money to pay architects to come up with a workable plan for the scheme to turn the Neighborhood Community Center into a Library and convert the existing Donald Dungan Library into a community meeting facility. His proposal would use 60% of the money in that item and gut that fund, leaving less than $400,000 for that item. When the motion was made Genis pushed back and made a substitute motion to approve the budget as submitted. That was defeated, 3-2, with Genis and Wendy Leece voting affirmatively and the male majority voting no. When Mensinger's motion was called it passed, 3-2, with Genis and Leece voting no.
A BALANCED BUDGET IS GREAT
Now, I'm all for a balanced budget and one that grew more than 6% from last year shows me a healthy economy. I know the staff spent hundreds of hours refining the budget based on a variety of input and lots of analysis by Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent and his staff. I know much anguish went into culling the Capital Improvement Budget - fewer than half the proposed projects were included in the budget. If all 84 had been included it would have cost more than $28 million, not $19.4 million.
ARROGANT ABUSE OF POWER
So when Mensinger decides arbitrarily - because "people have been talking with me for years" about the improvements he wanted to include - to add improvements in HIS part of town and, specifically, the main approach to HIS neighborhood, it just strikes me as an arrogant disregard of the hard work and process that was followed and an abuse of the power of his position.
MANY MORE WORTHY PROJECTS
Look down that list at the items NOT highlighted in yellow. You'll see many worthy projects that might have been included. For example, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the shortage of lighted fields in our city, yet item # 55, Kaiser School - Lighting Feasibility Study and #60, Parsons School Field Lighting were not included. Genis pointed out that if they were to be juggling dollars, #45, Fairview Park Bluff Stairs (South) and #46, Fairview Park Bluff Repair (West), should be considered for community safety reasons. And, much to do has been made of the shabby condition of several of our Fire Stations, but items #70, 71, 72, 75, 76 and 77, which addressed many of those issues, were not included.
PUBLIC SAFETY DOWN THE LIST
The fact that Mensinger chose - and his fellow members of the majority concurred - to go for the frills instead of the critical repairs gives you an idea of what's important to them. The safety of the public is way, way down their list.
DON'T TOUCH THAT CONTINGENCY FUND!
And, it would have been amusing if not so serious, when Hatch offered up some of his $1,000,000 contingency fund (He's the only City Manager who EVER had that kind of discretionary dollars to play with), Righeimer immediately slammed that door. He's been using that contingency fund for pet projects every year since he's been in office.
YOU'LL HEAR RHETORIC, NOT REALITY
During the upcoming campaign season - we'll know exactly who is running for the two open City Council seats and who is not on August 8th - we're going to hear a lot of rhetoric Righeimer and his pals about what a great job of fiscal management Righeimer and his cronies have done. Presumed candidate and majority sycophant Lee Ramos is already chanting that mantra every time he speaks anywhere. What you won't hear is that they paved streets instead of funding public safety positions. You won't hear them tell you that they cut staff and replaced them with consultant cronies and campaign contributors. They won't be telling you about the astronomical legal fees we've seen ever since Righeimer took office. You won't hear about the thousands of dollars the City had to spend rehabilitating the area where the illegal decomposed granite trail in Fairview Park was stealthily installed and the resultant ill-will the City incurred with the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife because of it. And you surely won't hear them talk about their biggest shiny object - the infamous 60th Anniversary Celebration, that cost more than a half-million dollars and the costs and culpability are still not sorted out a year later. Nope, you're not going to hear about that.
FLESHING OUT THE ISSUES
These are issues that need to be thoroughly vetted during the campaign. There will be at least a couple campaign forums at which questions about some of those issues may be addressed. I sure hope so. The answers are too important to the future of the city to be ignored.