Sunday, May 31, 2009

Costa Mesa Budget Home Stretch

That noise you hear in the background is the clock ticking on our budget process. City Manager Allan Roeder recently promised, in no uncertain terms, that the city will have a balanced budget by the July 1st deadline... tick-tock, tick

At their meetin
g on Tuesday, June 2nd, the Costa Mesa City Council will meet in closed session to discuss negotiations with the employee unions. Later that evening the staff will present to the council their proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2009/2010. On Tuesday, June 9th, the council will hold a study session to review the budget and, if history holds true, there will be a public workshop on the budget, probably on Thursday, June 11th. Final approval of the budget will likely occur at their meeting on June 16th. If there are problems the staff will still have a couple weeks to sort it out before the July 1st deadline. It wouldn't surprise me to see a special council meeting called in the last few days of the month.


In recent years attendance at that public workshop has been sparse, to say the very least. By that I mean that there have been 3 of us there for the entire program, with a couple other people wandering through from time to time. It always amazes me how little interest there has been by the public when it comes to the
budget even though every element of our municipal government depends on how those numbers are crunched.


The Finance staff for the City of Costa Mesa has won awards year after year for the past three decades for their budget presentation. Typically, it provides information for every level of interest, beginning with a Budget-At-A-Glance booklet and progressing through a
couple documents that provide greater detail and on to the actual budget itself for those nit-pickers and would-be budget analysts among us who actually try to devour the information line item by line item.


Our city, and every other one in this state, is in big trouble budget-wise this year. Sales and Property taxes are down and the Governor is threatening to "borrow" 8% of our
already-diminished property tax dollars to try to balance the state budget. Heck, the City of Vallejo even filed for bankruptcy so it could resolve the crushing burden of employee labor contracts.


We here in Costa Mesa have managed to get by for the past few years by the creative use of what is known as th
e "fund balance" - applying left over dollars to the next budget. That pool of money is just about tapped out because it has been used to balance the current budget - to the tune of around $15 million. As a result it's very likely that, for our leaders to balance the new budget there, will be very wide and deep personnel cuts - that's where the money is, after all. Almost 75% of our municipal expenditures are for wages and benefits.

I encourage any
one who is interested in the fiscal well-being of our city, and the budget process in particular, to attend the council study session on June 9th or, even better, the public workshop on June 11th. My personal experience at those workshops over the past few years has been totally positive - no question went unanswered. Typically they are conducted by Roeder, Marc Puckett, Bobby Young and others of the Finance Department staff. In years past members of the City Council have not attended the workshop. It's the time to get the real scoop on the budget and help dispel any myths you might have about where the money comes from and where it goes, and why.

I'll see you at the workshop on June 11th, Conference Room 1A at City Hall. Bring your questions.



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