Extensive budget debate expected

Despite meager increase of the city's revenue and drop in salaries and benefits, the city still projects $3.3 million deficit.

May 30, 2011|By Joseph Serna,

COSTA MESA — The city's spending priorities for the next fiscal year will be up for full discussion with the public Tuesday when City Council conducts its latest study session on the preliminary budget leading up to its passage by the end of June.

Given the political climate in Costa Mesa in the last few months, expect thorough debate on where the council is looking to put its dollars. The preliminary budget shows a $5 million increase in maintenance and operations spending and a $1.7 million drop in salaries and benefits, mostly the result of cuts to police staff, programs and increased employee contributions to their pensions.

The city projects about a $3.3 million shortfall in the preliminary budget despite increased revenue. Because the council majority has pledged to approve the budget only if expenditures match revenues without dipping into reserves, the council Tuesday and in the following meetings will have to find places to trim.


There's little the city can do to increase revenues millions of dollars, according to city officials. Since the city has filled past deficits with upwards of $30 million in reserves, depleting the fund to dangerous levels, it's not longer an option, officials argue.

This council, with two new members from last year, has made reinvesting in street and park maintenance a priority after seeing both significantly reduced in the recent recession.

Amid the budget discussions Tuesday, potentially dramatic changes to city staffing and spending loom on the horizon.

Even if the city finds itself with a balanced budget by July 1, city officials are still working to offload potentially hundreds of workers and their pensions for outside companies in the fall and winter. Staff costs approved in June could be night and day to what the council will see next January.

Tuesday's study session is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at City Hall, 77 Fair Drive.

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