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Time's up for budget talks

City Council isn't sure how it will cut more than $8 million in spending, but budget must be approved by July 1.

June 13, 2010|By Joseph Serna

Ready or not, the Costa Mesa City Council will approve a city budget at Tuesday night's meeting with no clear answer to how they'll save more than $8 million in spending on top of what's already been cut from city services.

When the city saw it was facing a $16.4-million shortfall for the coming fiscal year beginning in July, a reduction in services and staffing across the board cut the deficit in half.

In the meantime, according to the staff report for Tuesday's meeting, the city will use the General Fund to plug the hole while they negotiate with employee unions and count on additional revenues in the new fiscal year.

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Costa Mesa is cutting spending by $10 million compared to last year, but not even that was enough to recover from a continued drop in property and sales tax revenues from the recession. Scores of full-time city employees are being laid off or having their hours cut.

With July 1 drawing closer, city officials turned to the public to suggest which priorities, such as police officers and after-school programs, should be looked at first for reductions. For the second year in a row, the police department reduced staffing and its operations. Residents placed greater importance on after-school programs, which are still being looked at for potential cuts.

Vacant positions across the city will not be filled next year and city reserves are at their lowest in years.

Because the state requires cities to approve a balanced budget before July 1, Costa Mesa Council members are expected to approve the $108 million budget for 2010-11 Tuesday night. Among further cuts, city officials Tuesday showed interest in raising the Transient Occupancy Tax that affects prices at certain hotels and motels in the city for city visitors, and the business license fee. Costa Mesa has the lowest TOT tax in Orange County and among the lowest business license fees as well.

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