Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Budget - Does Anybody Care?

Last Thursday night I attended a workshop on the 2007-2008 Costa Mesa municipal budget, conducted by City Manager Allan Roeder, Finance Director Marc Puckett and his new associate, Bobby Young. The staff had printed information available for virtually every level of interest, beginning with their Budget At A Glance booklet, the first of four progressively more detailed documents available to interested residents.

Hello, Is Anybody There?
As has been the case for the past three years that I've attended this event, it was sparsely attended. Sparsely? At the beginning there were only three residents in attendance, but one left early-on to attend another meeting - that left two of us. Two and half hours later three more residents arrived, but one left shortly thereafter. Despite the valuable information we received, I kept feeling that this just wasn't a good return on investment.

So, at a meeting designed to inform residents about how the city proposes to spend nearly $130,000,000 in the next fiscal year, virtually nobody showed up. That's an amazing fact, when you think about it. In fact, fewer than a dozen people total have showed up over the past three years.

The city staff does a remarkable job of preparing and presenting the budget each year. Their presentations have won
awards many times over. It's just too bad that so few residents seem to care about how their tax dollars are spent.

Some Interesting Numbers and Questions

In the 2007-2008 the City of Costa Mesa will spend $128,080,367 - around $1,100 per resident. The Operating Budget is $120,890,367, up just under 9% from the year ending June
30th. Due to the spike in the use of Measure M funds last year, the Capital Improvement Budget will drop 52.28%, to $7,190,000.

Did you know that just about 49% of the budget will go to Protection of Persons and Property, which includes Police, Fire, Code Enforcement, Emergency Medical Care, Building Safety and Animal Control?

Did you know that just about 66% of the budget is allocated to the payment of Salaries and Benefits?

Did you know that the Residential Renovation Improvement Program (RRIP), implemented in 2005 and 2006, that waived the payment of permit fees for residential property improvements, cost the city around $700,000 in revenue?

Did you know that our Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which some folks refer to as the "Bed Ta
x", is the lowest in the county by a large margin? At 6%, it's less than half that of most neighboring communities. Do you realize that for each 1% increase in the TOT the city would receive around $1,000,000 in revenue - most of which would be coming from folks just passing through town?

Do you understand what the term "Fund Balance" means? Nah, I didn't think so.

Your Neighbor and Cart Retrieval
On the subje
ct of the budget, over at the CM Press The-Brain-Who-Ate-Costa-Mesa continues his drum beat, ranting about the money the city pays to have shopping carts retrieved around the city. The contract is for $4,000 per month - a total of $48,000 per year. He rants and raves about this expenditure as though it's going to break the bank. The truth is that the city has never spent $48,000 a year on cart retrieval. They have a contract with the markets in the area for reimbursement for each cart returned by the service. So, the net expenditure by the city has been significantly less than the contract amount. Of course, acknowledging that fact takes the edge of the CM Presses argument, so he won't tell you that. The issue here is not whether we should be paying for cart retrieval or not - that subject was debated and resolved several years ago. The issue here is that the city negotiated a good contract and found a way to get some of that money back, too.

At the council meeting tonight our elected leaders will likely approve much of what was proposed by the city staff. If they get into the debate, once again, about the shopping cart retrieval cost you will know that our old buddy at the CM Press still has his hands on the reins of the majority and gives them a not-too-gentle yank every now and again to remind them that he's still there.

Any Ideas?
I'd be very interested in how you feel about the budget and the dissemination of the information in it.

Do you, for example, think there is value in a presentation such as the one I attended before the f
inal budget is approved?

Do you have an interest in some kind of a Budget Town Hall Meeting, to be held after the fact, in which residents could be briefed on how their leaders and the city staff plan to spend their tax dollars in the next year?

Would you like to receive something like the Budget At A Glance booklet at home, perhaps distributed with the Recreation Guide?

Any other ideas?

I'd appreciate your views. If you want to post a comment about it, please do so. If you prefer to simply email me your ideas and not have them posted here please use the email address on my Profile page.

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Blogger Len Bose said...

Yes, I would like this information if it was available online. This is the type of information that I look for on your site.

Thank you
Len Bose

6/19/2007 08:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Asking working families that can't or don't attend meetings at schools that have a much more profound impact in their daily lives to sit through several hours of a presentation at which their opinions are of no interest is a bit optimistic, don't you think?

I agree with Len, the city should post it along with supporting details on how we came to spend each dollar amount (who's motion and by what vote at what city council meeting) would be much more valuable to me.

6/19/2007 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both Len and DVS bring up great points - are these materials available online? I know that I get e-mails from the City regarding press releases and mettings, perhaps the City should make an effort to get everyone's e-mail addresses (insert a flyer in trash and water bills, or in the Mesa Consolidated Water District's annual water quality report.

I'm a little confused as to how 49% and 66% = 100%. Also, am I the only one who thinks 66% of the City budget going to salaries and benefits is too high? I know that the trade-off for municipal employment's historically low pay was great benefits and a pension, but when was the last time a real comparative survey was done? I don't get a pension, and I pay into my health care, so why should my City's employees get a much better deal? And are the monies for public safety EXCLUSIVE of salary and benefits (facilities, helicopters, fire trucks, etc.)? If so, that is also problemmatic. How are we doing on public employee pensions?

Thanks for bringing this up, Geoff! Unfortunately, I thinkl DVS is right on - our opinions are of no interest!

6/19/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think we all should try to get more involved. It's important to know where our money goes.

7/02/2007 02:07:00 PM  

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