Costa Mesa is facing a deficit of about $16 million large. For a city its size, and for the size of its annual budget, that's a lot of coin. Unlike what you may believe, and what some on the council would like you to believe, the deficit is not a direct result of the recession. The recession has only made a bad problem worse. The good news is that it has exposed the weak link in the council's aggregate wisdom.
To the first point, the city began dipping into its reserves three years ago, before this recession began.
To the second point, the current council does not appear to have any clue as to how to restore the city to fiscal health, save for cutting staff and programs. That's no way to right the ship.
One indication of a lack of fundamentals in establishing long-term fiscal health was a vote last year during the height of the recession. At the council meeting of July 21, the council voted unanimously to spend $1.13 million to buy a brand-new fire truck. Did the city need a new fire truck? Yes. Did it need to buy a new fire truck at that time? No.
The vote was typical of many of the council: emotional instead of rational. After a powerful presentation in favor of buying a new truck — where, as an attendee, I was left with the impression that without this new truck, residents would be leaping to their deaths in a multistory fire that was certain to happen the next day — the council voted with its heart, not its head. Think of it this way: The city has a new fire truck, but the department may have to lay off the person trained to drive it.
Another example is the suggestion to help bail out the city by raising business fees, which are among the lowest in the county.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. A business-friendly council, a council that truly understood what is necessary for long-term growth and prosperity would not only vote no on such a proposal, they would be acting to lower business fees, not raise them. Further, officials would invite the Chamber of Commerce to make recommendations at a council meeting on how to make Costa Mesa more business-friendly, not just during the recession, but forever.