Friday, June 13, 2008

2008-2009 Budget Workshop

Just about a year ago I wrote a little entry talking about the 2007-2008 Costa Mesa budget. At the time it seemed as though no one in our city cared
a whit about how much money was going to be spent on their behalf. Nor, it appeared, did they care about the way it was spent. Very few people showed up at the community budget workshop. "Very few" means 3 people!

Well, here we are, another year, another budget workshop and (yawn) no one cares! Thursday, June
12th, I attended the most recent iteration of the budget workshop conducted by City Manager Allan Roeder, Finance Director Marc Puckett and his strong right arm, Bobby Young. As in years past, it was sparsely attended.


Because of a strong marketing effort on my part (he says, tongue firmly implanted in his cheek) there were twice as many residents in attendance this year. Your friendly correspondent and long time resident and council-w
atcher Beth Refakes were there for the duration. Park and Recreation Commissioner and former council candidate Terry Shaw, busy guy that he is, arrived a little late and left a little early. Eastside residents Jeff Harlen and Jim Fitzpatrick, both of whom are recently-energized activists, attended, but had family commitments that forced them to depart early. That was it! In a city of over 110,000 souls, five of us cared enough about how our tax dollars are being spent to attend all or part of this excellent workshop.


To be entirely fair, a couple dozen residents attended the City Council Study Session on the 10th, during which the presentation was made to the council. Some asked questions and made suggestions. So, in actuality, fewer than 30 people cared enough about the budget to attend either meeting. What does that tell us?

Well, I think it tells us that most of the populace feel they are in good
hands when it comes to money management in our city. Others might say that most people just don't give a rat's patoot... I prefer the former. Having watched Roeder and Puckett in action for several years, I have a great deal of confidence in their ability to analyze the needs of the city and create solid financial plans to accomplish them. This year's budget is no exception.

Here are a few numbers for your consideration: This year the city plans to spent almost $145,0
00.000 on your behalf, up from around $131,000,000 the previous year - an increase of 10.57%. 80% of our revenue is derived from Sales and Property taxes - Sales Tax=43.67% and Property Tax=27.61%. The remainder comes from a variety of much smaller sources, the largest of which is the Transient Occupancy (Bed) Tax, at 5.34%.

48.27% of the Operating Budget will be spent on Salaries, 13.31% on Retirement benefits and 5.2
0% on Debt Service. According to a dandy little chart in the Budget at a Glance booklet available to all residents, for the fiscal year 08-09 the Median Residential Property Value in Costa Mesa is $600,000. Property Tax paid on that amount is $6000. Of that amount, $900 is distributed to the city. Of that $900, $504 (56%) goes to Police and Fire services.

The largest hunk of money typically spent in our municipal budget goes for the people employed by the city in terms of salaries and benefits. During the presentation City Manager Allan Roeder stated emphatically that he advised his management team that no additional staff will be authorized during the new fiscal year.


On the subject of Police and Fire services, most of us know that the City of Vallejo in the Bay Area
recently filed for bankruptcy, in great part because they were spending more than 80% of their total budget for Police and Fire salaries and benefits. Costa Mesa's budget shows slightly over 50% for the same line items.

Expenditures for the Capital Budget is up 41.35% this year. The city plans to spend more than $10,000,000 on road and infrastructure improvements during this budget year. That's a lot of pot hole repairs, street re-paving, bike paths and turn lanes to be installed.


This year the city plans to spend slightly more than $10,000,000 more than they will take in from
all revenue sources. "What?!", you say. "How can they spend more than they will take in? What kind of fiscal management is that?" Glad you asked. The short answer is that it's outstanding fiscal management. The even shorter answer is two words - Fund Balance. Remember that $131,000,000 they budgeted last year? Well, they don't just prepare a budget, then start writing checks until the money runs out. The city staff keeps their finger on the financial pulse of our city throughout the year. They spend the money when it's needed and don't when it's not. Fund Balance is what's left over from the budgeted number that has not been spent. This money has been taken out of the 07-08 pocket and placed in the 08-09 pocket to balance this year's budget. Slick, huh?

Oh, yes. In case you're wondering, the Emergency Reserve is around $14,125,000, just about the sa
me as last year.

"OK, Pot Stirrer, you've got my attention", you say. "How can I find out more?" Glad you asked - again. The city has prepared budget documents for every level of interest, beginning with the aforementioned Budget at a Glance pamphlet. Between that and the full-blown budget document there are two others - the Budget Study Session workbook and the Proposed Operating and Capital Improvement Budget Summaries - which will provide more information than most of us will ever need. Copies can be obtained from the Finance Department.


Additionally, the budget is available online for download - don't try it without a high speed internet connection - it's a couple hundred pages of pdf file! If you want to see some of the Powerpoint and Video segments you can go to the city website - there's a link on the right of this page - and follow the links to
Costa Mesa TV, then to the Archived Videos. There, via streaming video - also requiring high speed internet - you can view the June 10th Study Session, which includes the entire dog and pony show presented to the City Council.

Tuesday, June 17th, the City Council will consider and adopt the final 2008-2009 budget. That session starts at 6:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. You can view the proceedings live on CMTV, Channel 24 and also on live steaming video on your computer. The meeting will be replayed during the week at various times.


So, neighbors, once again the city staff, led by Allan Roeder, has managed to keep us out of financial quicksand through diligent attention to the management of this city and the preparation of a sound budget. There is a display case in the Finance Department lobby full of awards bestowed on The City for the preparation of budgets in previous years. Thanks to all of them for continuing excellence in the performance of their duties for our city.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mr. U. Know-Who Is Right - For Once

I suppose I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've agreed with The-Brain-Who-Ate-Costa-Mesa over at the CM Press. Although I've never failed to acknowledge that he's one smart dude, his views on most subjects are diametrically opposed to mine - and we both state that emphatically as we go about trying to influence the hearts and minds of Costa Mesans.


However, today in his CM Press #391, he points out an article written by Leonard Kranser, my old nemesis in the El Toro Airport fights, which ran in the Orange County Register today. You can read Kranser's article HERE.

Our Neighbor over at the CM Press is right on this issue. Of course, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. He is correct that we should be pursuing the creation of an intercontinental airport on the grounds of Camp Pendleton that could serve both Orange County and San Diego to bleed off the overwhelming traffic from both airports.

While we still have several years until the agreement that imposes the existing caps on flights expires, it's clear to anyone paying attention that John Wayne Airport is gearing up for more, more, more. This is not good news for any resident of either Costa Mesa or Newport Beach because the impacts of any "logical" expansion will decimate our neighborhoods. Of course, those of us on the Eastside of Costa Mesa will share the greatest impact with our good neighbors over in the Dover Shores area of Newport Beach, who already feel the impact of the flights most severely.

So, I agree with our pal at the CM Press that we need to get moving on an alternative to the expansion of John Wayne Airport to meet our growing air transportation needs. We were bamboozled out of the perfect location - El Toro - by a bunch of organized South County whiners, with Kranser leading the way. That place could still become the airport we need, since virtually no progress is being made on the "Great Park" and the important infrastructure still exists.


The Costa Mesa City Council has said they are going to work closely with their counterparts in Newport Beach to fend off John Wayne expansion. So far, all we've heard is talk. Those that think everything is hunky-dory because the cap agreement is still in place are living in a fantasy world. Those years will zip right past and we'll find ourselves reading tail numbers from 500 feet away before too long.
We cannot afford to let any time pass before serious work is done finding an alternative. Camp Pendleton seems to be the right choice.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Madame Sheriff and Audio Caspa

Well, on
a split vote, 3-2, the Orange County Board of Supervisors have appointed retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Division Chief Sandra Hutchens as the next Sheriff of Orange County. The appointment is provisional, which is required by state law until psychological testing is completed.

Congratulations to Sheriff Hutchens. I was amused by the comments on the Red County/OC Blog following the appointment. Talk about sour grapes! They wanted Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters appointed in the worst way. Hmmm, maybe I should try
to find a better description, huh? :-)

Actually, I don't understand the hub-bub about Hutchens appointment. Her background demonstrates excellence throughout her career. She's worked in a very large, very politically-charged environment and did well. We'll see if the "good old boys" here in Orange County try to sabotage her in the couple years before she must run for election in 2010.


I had a chance to hear Humberto Caspa on the radio this morning as he spoke with Larry Ma
ntle on KPCC, FM 89.3 discussing his book. The interview was informative, especially so when a caller who identified himself as "Robert", from the Westside of Costa Mesa told the audience that he didn't want a barrio in Costa Mesa. Very interesting and illustrative of the attitude of too many Costa Mesans. It was demonstrated very clearly on another local blog this morning.

As mentioned yesterday, he will continue his book signing tour with two appearances at Libreria Martinez in Santa Ana this month. The first event (English) will be Thursday, June 12th at 6:30 p.m. The second (Spanish) will be on Sunday, June 22nd at 1:30 p.m.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

An Interesting Day In Costa Mesa

A few interesting things will happen here in our little neck of the woods over the next 24 hours.

Tonight, during its regularly scheduled meeting, the Costa Mesa Planning Commission will consider how to deal with the numerous bootleg buildings around our town. This pimple of an issue festered to a head recently when a neighbor on Costa Mesa Street was planning to remodel his home. His property included an outbuilding
constructed in the 1960s without the benefit of permits. Apparently this is not the only such structure in our town. Big surprise!

Our city, established in 1953, was a collection of communities before it was incorporated. It was remote enough from the county seat in Santa Ana that, when a guy whose property backed up to a bit of agricultural land, decided he wanted to build a shed for his tractor or tools or his model train set he just built it.

Progress has created a whole new cadre of scofflaws - usually older folks who have lived in their home for 50 years or so. Now those folks are moving on - one way or another - and younger folks are buying those big lots with bootleg buildings tucked back into a corner hoping to build the home of their dreams. Unfortunately, they're going to
have to deal with the building before building their castle.

Based on reading the staff report, it looks like you'll finally be able to get even with your neighbor - just call Code Enforcement and report a "problem" with your neighbor's outbuilding. They'll be over lickety-split to cite your offending neighbor and require him to "fix" the problem.

I find myself wondering if there are not many more important things for our municipal bureaucrats to be worrying about. You can "credit" carpetbagger Jim Righeimer for this one - he wants to make Costa Mesa look like Irvine and getting rid of the bootleg buildings is a good place for him to start.

Dr. Humber
to Caspa will appear on radio station KPCC (FM 89.3) with Larry Mantle Tuesday, June 10th at 10:30 a.m. to discuss his recent book, "Terror in the Latino Barrio: The Rise of the New Right in Local Government". He will also appear in person at two events at Libreria Martinez in Santa Ana this month. He will appear on June 12th at 6:30 p.m. (English) and on the June 22nd at 1:30 p.m. (Spanish).

It is assumed by those who are watching this situation closely that tomorrow, Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will finally select a new Sheriff to replace the disgraced and indicted Mike Carona. The nearly 50 candidates have been distilled down to tw
o - Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters and retired Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Division Chief Sandra Hutchens. This is going to be very interesting. Walters has the local profile while Hutchens has a resume and command experience in a very big department that was second to none among the candidates. Some folks in Santa Ana are already lining up to find a Latino replacement for Walters, feeling that the predominant demographic group - 75% of Santa Ana residents are Latino - has not been fairly served for the more than two decades Walters has been their top guy.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

It's Budget Time In Costa Mesa

Just a reminder to you all that this week is budget time in Costa Mesa. On Tuesday, June 10th, the City Council will receive a presentation on the 2008-2009 budget by the Finance Department Staff in a Study Session at 4:30 in Conference Room 1A. This meeting is open to the public and limited public comments will be permitted.

Thursday, at the same location, from 6:00 - 8:00, there will be a budget workshop held for members of the public during which the city staff will present all, or at least most, of the presentation they made Tuesday to the council. I've attended the past several such workshops and found them to be very enlightening. Unfortunately, they are usually very sparsely attended - there were only a couple of us at the most recent two. Typically, no members of the City Council are present at the workshop.

The city staff members who participate in this presentation are patient and very informative. They have won awards for many years for their budget presentation - there's a large bookcase in the Finance Department filled to overflowing with plaques and trophies for their budgets from prior years.

The several documents they prepare - there's one for just about every possible level of interest, beginning with their excellent Budget-at-a Glance booklet - will answer most questions residents will have. For those inclined to nit-pick the details, there are a couple other publications available providing line item detail for your review. Each of these documents are available for download on the city web site - there's a link to that site over on the right of this page.

This is an excellent opportunity for residents of our city to learn about the budget and the overall financial condition of our city. I encourage any of you interested to join me at the workshop on Thursday evening to find out why our city is in such good financial condition - unlike places like the City of Vallejo, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection.