Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Balanced Budget (So Far) And Happy Homebuyers

When Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch addressed the City Council and the VERY small crowd assembled in council chambers in the early minutes of the second budget study session Tuesday afternoon and said that he and Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young would be presenting them with a balanced budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year I thought to myself, "Wow, another early evening!"  Silly me!

The new budget is just under $132 million ( Up .55%) and includes more than $18 million in capital improvements.  Hatch told us this budget does NOT use fund balance and, in fact, has a small surplus to be applied to our reserves.

This study session, scheduled for 90 minutes as a preamble to a Special City Council meeting at 6:00, actually stretched to more than twice that long.  It was 7:35 before that meeting ended and the new one began.  Read Bradley Zint's Daily Pilot coverage HERE.  Here's what took so long...

Hatch began by referring to a memo from Young and Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz that was part of the staff report, HERE.  As you can see, it posed eight questions asked at the earlier study session and provided answers to all of them.  We learned, for example, that this new budget contains just under $2.5 million in consulting services, of which General Legal Services makes up $650,000 - and that doesn't count litigation costs, which are buried in the Self Insurance Fund deep in the bowels of the budget.

We also learned that there are 467 full time budgeted positions, of which 46 were considered vacant when the budget was prepared.  Based on current staffing levels, there are 43 vacant budgeted positions citywide.  However, during the discussion we learned that a dozen of those positions are in the Fire Department and will be eliminated as part of soon-to-depart Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's restructuring and redeployment plan for that organization, so the "actual" vacancy number is 31.

At one point the conversation turned to the staffing levels of the Costa Mesa Police Department, and the service levels we're experiencing.  Wendy Leece reminded us all that the authorized staff level was slashed by the council two years ago despite the strong recommendations by our consultants, Management Partners, and then-chief Steve Staveley.  Their recommendations were 136 sworn officers but certain members of the council insisted we follow an irrelevant formula that indicated 125 was the proper number.  That's where we ended up, plus another half-dozen "grant" officers. That grant expires in a couple years.  So, our authorized strength is 131.

Hatch attempted to"mitigate" the issue by telling us that public safety isn't just the police department's responsibility - we all must do our part.  He talked about the increase in non-sworn personnel that took some of the load off the sworn staff.  He talked about the progress made by the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force and the impact of the two new code enforcement officers that report to the Executive Office.  He did acknowledge that police staffing is actually around 121 officers today.

He sought support from Chief Tom Gazsi, who stepped to the speaker's podium and gave us a little history of the department staffing levels, and the organizational configuration from the early 1990s forward.  He spoke of Governor Brown's realignment releases as a result of AB 109, and how the shuffling of inmates back down the food chain resulted in more former prisoners on the streets today.  Gazsi acknowledged that when the economy turned down beginning in late 2007 the police staffing was permitted to reduce, which may have been short-sighted in retrospect.  He stated that it may be time now to consider re-evaluating the necessary staffing levels to keep the city safe.

Gazsi mentioned the close cooperation the CMPD has with the Orange County Probation Department - that a probation officer is in our city at least two days a week, helping to keep track of our probationers.  He also told us that the CMPD presently has 122 sworn officers and is in an aggressive recruitment mode trying to fill vacancies and get officers hired anticipating what he described as a probable 40% attrition rate over the next four years!  In recent months we've lost a significant number of command staff members to retirement and other seasoned officers continue actively seek jobs in other departments - like Beverly Hills and Newport Beach. Yikes!

Gazsi told us that recruitment is difficult these days as most other police agencies are also attempting to recover lost positions that were left vacant due to economic considerations.  As examples of this difficulty in recruitment he told us that the City of Orange recently tested 2,000 recruits and hired 4.  In that same time frame Newport Beach tested 1,000 and hired 2.  Human Resources has hired a recruiter to work specifically on the police recruitment effort.

Despite all the upbeat conversation about technological tools now available to help fight crime - crime mapping, for example - I came away from that discussion VERY concerned about our ability to hire and train sufficient officers to actually meet the law enforcement requirements over the next few years.

For his part in this discussion, Mayor Jim Righeimer seemed to sometimes speak in tongues.  At one point he said that, as far as public safety is concerned, "we will do what we have to do."  He then told us that adding more cops isn't going to solve the crime problem!  What?!  He told us that "adding millions and millions of dollars isn't going to 'move that line'".  I give up!  His anti-cop bias is just too much to bear.  And he makes absolutely no attempt to hide it, either. 

On a more positive note, Righeimer asked to have the $1.2 million earmarked for improvements to the council chambers audio/video facilities - subsequently deleted from the budget - broken into two pieces for the council's consideration next week.  It sounded like he wanted to include about $250,000 of that money in the budget this year.  Dane Bora and Brad Long may be smiling right about now.

During the discussion of the budget councilwoman Sandra Genis observed that we seem to have plenty of money for party planners and PR people, but not so much for public safety.  I couldn't help but smile...

There was a significant amount of time dedicated to the debate about lights in Fairview Park.  Genis and others feel that it is necessary to open the Fairview Park Master Plan to change the rules BEFORE any lights are installed.  Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger told us it's all about the kids and their safety - that they have a hard time finding their parents cars without lights - ignoring the fact that Fairview Park is a "dawn-to-dusk" park.  Folks are not supposed to be there after dark unless there is a special event going on - like the "Concerts In The Park" series.  Eventually it was decided to fund the lights in the budget and assign the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee the task of evaluating the need as part of their efforts.

During his little push for lights Mensinger described Fairview Park as "one of the biggest sports complexes in the city".  A few of us in the audience were scratching our heads on that one, since the park has never before been described as a "sports complex" - it's a predominantly passive park with a couple of long-established uses - the Soaring Society and Model Trains - that might be described as non-passive.  I think what we heard was what was rattling around in his head - his own personal wish list for that park - more fields, more lights and more paved parking areas.  He's a developer, after all.  You might recall that I reported that two of his appointees to the Fairview Park Citizen's Advisory Committee, Ron Amburgey and Brett Eckles, said much the same thing at the first meeting of that group last week.

It became very evident to me as I watched and listened to the discussion that Mensinger is maneuvering to get lights in areas that will provide overflow parking for events at his beloved Estancia High School.  It was also crystal clear that he is absolutely inflexible in that goal, regardless what anyone else thinks.  Watch the tape when it becomes available and tell me what you think.

Speaking of Mensinger, although Hatch presented a balanced budget, near the end of the discussion he piped up and said he wanted to add two more things to the numbers.  He wanted (1) to fund low cost fee youth basketball, track and volleyball after school programs at all elementary schools.  He estimated that might cost around $90,000.  And, (2), he wanted a flag football program at the middle schools, for $30,000.  That's right - he just threw another $120,000 into the mix for Hatch to try to manage.

Finally, nearly two hours into the study session, we finally got to Item #2, the Community Development Block Grant Allocations.  You can read the staff report HERE.  The short version of this presentation is that Mensinger doesn't want to fund social service activities with this money.  He wants to put it all into capital improvements!  Hatch had already slashed funding from several of the organizations and activities recommended by the ad hoc committee charged with evaluating them.  In fact, most of the organizations most highly rated using the scoring table provided by the city council were completely defunded!  In fact, of the $141,750 available for use, Hatch recommended only $95,500 be utilized.  Later it was decided to defund Elwyn and Youth Employment Services for another $17,000 which, when added to the previous $46,250, made Mensinger's capital improvement kitty increase to $63,250!

At 7:15 we got to Item #3, the CDBG and HOME funds, HERE.  This program is used to disburse federal funds for housing rehabilitation via grants and loans.  In a nutshell, the council decided to eliminate the Neighbors-to-Neighbors program, hoping that some private organization(s) might pick it up.  They also eliminated the ill-used Tool Rental program.

The total CDBG funds available is around $1.3 million and the total HOME funds is just over $330,000.  These numbers will be included in the final budget next Tuesday.

FINALLY, at 7:35, we got to the Special City Council meeting called to consider modifying our current Homebuyer Assistance program.  Looking at the size of the staff report, HERE, I thought we were heading for another late night.  However, attorney Celeste Brady provided a crisp staff report with the help of an individual who will benefit from the changes recommended.  The short version is that folks who bought a home using our funds as a second mortgage cannot, under the rules in place today, refinance their first mortgage unless the home value is assessed at greater than the new loan amount plus our 2nd mortgage.  The discussion was brief and the council voted unanimously to modify our program to make it possible for some buyers - based on an evaluation by Hatch and relevant industry experts - to be able to take advantage of new rates.  We were outta there at 7:50!

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Anonymous nevernervous said...

first, thanks for starting my day with a laugh: Stavely. what a joke.

second: "sandy" (if that's her real name) says we have plenty for party planners and pr and not public safety? Please put the numbers out for comparison "sandy". want to cancel the 60th anniversary party to raise pensions for cops? want to get rid of PR person who helps spread the word of happenings to raise the pensions again? want to raise the business license tax to help raise a cop's pension? we in the private sector cannot count on raises but we sure can count on higher taxes from the libs who think gov't can spend our money better and more wisely than we ourselves can. if each cop could cost 10 per cent less we could add ten per cent more cops to the force for free. that is where the money is. retire at 50, enjoy life. well now they have to wait till 55, how cruel. change makes me nervous

6/12/2013 06:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Head North said...

Stevie's a lunkhead with a developer agenda. Costa Mesa is already built out. He should go back to Stockton and build there. He should be more like his Aunt Peggy (Google Peggy Mensinger Modesto) instead of his little buddy Jimbo.

The city needs to retain a psychiatrist to examine Righeimer and find out why he hates cops even though he own brother is reportedly one. It probably goes back to some childhood trauma.

Crime in Costa Mesa is up. Those who keep the police force lower than it should be bear part of the moral responsibility for its consequences.

6/12/2013 06:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Real General Plan said...

The Developer uses Steve as his battering ram while laying out his personal ideas in double-talk. He's a middle-class rapper.

People focus on the bully while the Developer advances his agenda.

Keep your eye on the Developer and his friends. Pay no attention to the loudmouth behind the locker room curtain.

6/12/2013 07:30:00 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

Your reporting of Sandy's comment about plenty of party planning and PR funds made me smile, too:)

6/12/2013 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

sk- Yes- it makes me smile, also.
Sandy( yes that's her real name, where did you come from,"never"?) certainly ruffled some feathers with her excellent question. Just look at Chairman's hysterical response in the first comment. He's bashing Stavely??
Now THAT'S a joke!
Priorities, priorities- OC GOP and the Howard Jarvis Tax Pledge or the City of Costa Mesa?
Change makes the councildudes nervous. Just look at their response to any suggestion of raising our city's Business License Tax.

6/12/2013 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Un-Fair View Park Light'g Sux said...

Maybe you could just sell "EHS Eagle Eye" flashlights at the concession booth for those bumbling teens to busy texting to find Mom's taxi...Or better yet, all you phone jockeys can just use the free "FlashlightSD App" for that!

6/12/2013 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous interim clown said...

alf, sk: I smiled too! (when I saw Stavely's name, lol. best meltdown ever!)

6/13/2013 06:56:00 AM  
Anonymous WOW said...

WOW! You mean Righeimer had lied on national TV that Costa Mesa was going broke because of employee pensions?

If the city was able to balance the budget with all the unnecessary executive staff on the 5th floor helping Righeimer's political agenda, AND the unnecessary legal bills due to Righeimer's illegal outsourcing plan AND let's not forget business license fees at 1961 rates, can you imagine how nice out city would be?

What a moronic comment about having less police...get over it Righeimer, stop punishing the residents for the police union towing around the no riggy trailer during your campaign. Hire more police, we want a safe Costa Mesa!

Oh wait, it's hard to recruit good talent...DUH!!! Who in their right mind would work for such a city? Morale at an all time low and the entire city filled with YesBoys.

Now they're saying that having 2 inexperienced code inspectors on the 5th floor somehow helps public safety? What a joke. Those code inspectors salaries are about the same as police officer salaries.

You can get 3 real part-time police officer for the price of 1 code inspector. Think about it...

6/13/2013 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Stand Up to Haters said...

Has Wendy ever hired anyone? So she has no experience? Who is scripting her comments?

Maybe WOW commenter is. He / she seems to have the same basic math stumbling block as they are comparing salaries not their total cost.

Instead of being embarrassed, the Haters only get angry.

Like the fearless leader of the frogs who recognized that the ranks are dwindling, it makes that Haters angry at the reality of what is occurring without the underlying support of unions.

These committees have more and more people involved who are getting what the council has been up against. They are providing solutions and carrying the message to their neighbors.

This terrifies the angry few

6/13/2013 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Go Stavely! said...

Camp Piggy posters are such a joke. I do understand the need for them to post something, even though it makes them sound moronically STUPID.

Camp Piggy Says:

1. Who needs cops, just put in some code inspectors and tell people we have a great "task force".

2. Those who are wise to us are scared of our made up numbers.

3. We have committees so we have to be legit.

4. We have tons of lawyers supporting us, we must be right.


They know they're a joke. It's just stupid politics and it keeps everyone employed.

Congrats Jones & Mayer! This council will keep paying every time they come up with another scam to support Piggys political career.

Long live Chief Stavely. The spineless soulless staff have a lot to learn from him. Are you listening Hatch? All the other YesBoys?

6/13/2013 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous I forgot to mention can of spray paint said...

So now kids need lights? The kids in costa mesa seemed to be just fine riding in the back of pickups late at night during campaign season!

6/13/2013 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous don't let door hit you... said...


Resigned, replacement named one hour later. you can't fire me, I quit!


6/14/2013 09:10:00 AM  

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