Thursday, May 15, 2014

Budget Workshop Wrap-up

The Budget Workshop conducted by City CEO Tom Hatch and Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent Wednesday evening was certainly worth the time.  They were supported by another half-dozen staffers, ready to answer specific technical questions.
Although the staff was prepared to go through the PowerPoint presentations from the Study Session Tuesday night, most, if not all, of the 9 residents present at the workshop had been to that meeting and had seen the presentations.

Q &A
Instead, the workshop ended up being a lively Question and Answer session that stretched to nearly double the scheduled 90 minutes.  Hatch fielded most of the questions and did so with much patience as those of us present tried to get some clarity on important budget issues.  It's our understanding that the meeting will be available for later viewing via streaming video and on CMTV.

Resident, activist and announced-council candidate Harold Weitzberg took the lead and attempted to get straight answers on the Police Department staffing/recruitment issue.  Hatch attempted to provide information that was a little confusing, but Weitzberg kept pulling the conversation back to some very basic issues.... 1)What is our current authorized sworn officer strength? (136).  2)How many officers do we presently actually have fit and available for duty? (98-100)  The difference is the actual vacancies (25) and those "injured on duty" (10-12).  These numbers are fluid - two more officers are leaving the end of this week, for example.  3) How many recruits do we have in the process (11). 

Midway through the discussion Police Chief Tom Gazsi happened by and joined the conversation.  He affirmed what Hatch had been telling us - that we have 11 candidates in various stages of recruitment/training and that he, Gazsi, was preparing offers to two more candidates.

However, due to the known attrition - retirees and departures to other venues - it will take a continuous recruitment/training effort to bring our actual, boots-on-the-ground, strength back up to 136 - probably averaging 4 recruits a month for a year.  In the meantime, officers continue to work long overtime hours to fill the safety needs of the city.

A question was asked about how long are recruits required to stay with the City.  Hatch's answer was that there is NO requirement, even though we pay to train them.  Many observers thought that was short-sighted, even though Hatch says it's the norm for most law enforcement agencies locally.  There was talk of signing/retention bonuses and Hatch implied that was something he'd like to pursue.

Gazsi stressed that, in our recruitment process, we exceed the minimum requirements, doing our best to hire candidates with the physical stamina, emotional stability and maturity to be successful.  He told us, in response to a question, that recruits tell him that they chose to apply to Costa Mesa because they were treated the best - with respect and dignity, encouraged and were provided with the best information.

The discussion then turned to the Fire Department and the new ambulances that are part of former Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's deployment model.  Hatch referred us to a staff report from the May 7, 2013 council meeting, HERE, in which Chief Arnold's plans were discussed at length.  None of the attendees at this meeting had a copy of that report at the time.

Questions were asked about the problems of putting all the new ambulances into service.  Right now, even though we have six (6) brand new ambulances, only two are in service.  In fact, the model they plan on implementing will only place four (4) of them into service with the remaining two (2) held in reserve.  Arnold's original preferred model includes using five (5), with one in reserve, to be used when the others are being serviced.  I had, and still have, a problem with two units - a half-million dollars worth of new equipment - sitting around in storage somewhere.

Questions of staffing remain amorphous, depending on when signal prioritization is implemented and on the future of Fire Stations #1 and #6.  #1 is in need of major repairs - Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger told us at the study session Tuesday that it should be rebuilt - and maybe relocated.  The closure of #6 remains a sticky issue - the original proposal included that act in the potential savings numbers.

It also included savings from the cancellation of the current private transport ambulance service contract with CARE Ambulance - a contributor to Mayor Jim Righeimer's campaign in the past.  Hatch, again, toe-danced around that issue, explaining that it MIGHT be in the plans for the future.  Funny, I was sure it was in the plans from the beginning.

Hatch told us that of the 12 vacant positions being held open, six job slots were being covered by overtime.  I reminded him that the Fire Department was already working horrendous overtime hours - to which he responded that most of that was Captains and above.  A look at the 2013 Employee Compensation Report, HERE, shows that of the first 200 or so entries - pages 1-8 - most are in the Fire Service.  As you scan down the list look at the column titled Overtime Hours.  You will find many firefighters - not just command staff - working hundreds, if not thousands, of additional hours.  Keep in mind that a typical work year is around 2080 hours.  Some of those folks work nearly two complete jobs!  This is not good for their health and for their family lives, either.  We should not be building a deployment model that depends on large numbers of overtime hours to fulfill!

Mention was made that, in the case of both Police and Fire, mutual aid or automatic aid between surrounding departments is traditionally part of any deployment model.  Because we are so short-staffed in both departments today it's difficult for the Costa Mesa units to hold up their end of the sharing equation.

Further, we understand from other sources, that there are plans afoot for a couple neighboring cities to, possibly, close down fire stations that have been part of our shared response activity.  Hatch said he will have that investigated first thing this morning.  It's impossible for Costa Mesa to accurately create a deployment model if the shared resources are in question.

Questions were also asked about the display of our legal expenses.  Currently, it is very difficult to reconcile what we are told is being budgets for legal expenses - basically, the costs for Jones & Mayer ($803,000) with the actual legal expenses we see showing up on the Warrants at virtually every council meeting.  Hatch and Dunivent agreed that there needs to be a better way to reflect the actual legal costs.

As we discussed the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget, questions were asked about "carry-over projects", like the plan in the current fiscal year to do a major renovation/enhancement of the audio/visual equipment in the City Council chambers.  That project was funded to the tune of $1.6 million in this fiscal year.  We were told it will begin soon and will be carried into the new fiscal year if necessary.

Other questions were asked about the Information Technology Replacement Fund that was authorized by the City Council for this  and subsequent budgets to accumulate cash for the systematic replacement/upgrading of our technology infrastructure.  The current number - $100,000 - was arbitrarily chosen as a starting point.  Dunivent and new Information Technology Director Steve Ely will be assessing this situation and make recommendations to the council for modification of the accumulation rate.

Hatch, in response to a question, spoke of the new Buyer position which will have the sole responsibility to assure that everyone follows the proper purchasing procedures - without exception.  He also spoke of hiring a new Purchasing Supervisor.

A question was asked about the "takeover" of the Senior Center, to which Hatch confirmed the budgeting of a half-million dollars for physical changes to the building and for programs and management of them.  A question was asked about the Albert Dixon Foundation funds.  Hatch said it was a separate non-profit organization that had supported the Senior Center in the past, but that he didn't know what the future held.

The meeting adjourned just before 8:30 and most seemed to feel satisfied with the results.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Geoff, I agree with your thoughts on the very costly transporters just sitting and depreciating on the lot, simply for lack of enough personnel to man them. That is a huge waste of money. They should be rotated in service at least.

I am very concerned about Hatch and his hat dances. He gives you just enough truth to be able to hide something else, more critical.

I noticed several complaints yesterday on various blogs, all regarding the rise in neighborhood crime. Everyone is sick of it. Its noticeable and its dangerous.

We certainly need a new regime in November. Please, for the sake of our property values, and our families' safety, vote Righeimer out of office and don't let his protege Ramos on that council.

5/15/2014 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

The only reason that Riggy the dictator and his two blind sheep Council Boys agreed to the million dollar non-transport ambulances is because he heard the words "reduced staffing" and he jumped all over it. They would have payed anything to get less firefighters on the payroll. That's what this was all about, Riggy the dictator has no intention of transporting people, he just wants less safety employees and more private contracts.

5/15/2014 01:39:00 PM  

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