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Community Commentary: What is our city's mission?

April 23, 2011|By Chuck Cassity

Our fair city of Costa Mesa has been roiled with controversy over the past few weeks about our serious budget deficit and the actions our City Council is taking in an attempt to correct it. I thought I'd look into the facts about this situation, in an effort to cut through the rhetoric and become better informed.

According to reported data, the average Costa Mesa household earns about $60,000 per year. Three hundred and sixty-six of Costa Mesa's 472 employees are paid more than $100,000 per year. Eighty-five of them take down more than $200,000 per year. We spend more than 85% of our total budget on salaries.

From more than 20% spent on infrastructure improvements (streets, curbs, parks, etc.) just a few years back, our current budget allows for less than 4%. We're still about $1.5 million upside down on this year's budget. A $15 million annual revenue shortfall is projected in the very near future without major changes. And the city is more than $130 million underfunded in terms of its pension contribution obligations.

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Reflecting on these rather startling facts, I asked myself, what exactly is our city, any city's, mission? Is it to hire as many well-paid people as possible to perform needed tasks, providing each with unequalled benefits and a comfortable retirement for life? Or is to provide necessary services in a timely and efficient manner at the lowest reasonable cost to its taxpayers?

If it's the former, what happens if and when you have one of those periodic economic downturns, such as the one in which we now find ourselves, and you get to the point where continued largesse is no longer affordable? If it's the latter, why should we employ anyone if the services they're to perform can be acquired from a private, tax-paying outside provider that can deliver them with equal efficiency and for less money?

There are those who will argue on both sides of this debate. As an entrepreneur and business owner and manager, I tend to come down on the side of quick, efficient, reliable and cost-effective service delivery. Businesses of all sizes do it every day. Why shouldn't we?

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