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Community Commentary: Common sense needed to help right Costa Mesa

June 09, 2011|By Steve Mensinger

"Don't be afraid to see what you see."

— President Ronald Reagan

It is my hope — and more importantly, the community's hope — that our employee associations help restore Costa Mesa's fiscal health and return it to being a model of balanced government.

First, we have to stop the bleeding. Our city has been hemorrhaging money for the past four fiscal years, draining $33.6 million from its reserves, despite eliminating more than 120 employee positions, delaying infrastructure repairs and cutting into many services.

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The sales tax revenue declines from the economic downturn and sharply rising pension costs have fundamentally changed the financial structure of Costa Mesa, and the city has yet to fully adjust. Our state and federal governments certainly don't seem to have a solution that would create a marked change in our city's fiscal health for many years to come.

The preliminary 2011-12 budget still shows a multi-million-dollar deficit, despite sales tax revenue projections that are higher than those predicted by the city's own consultant.

This council is committed to adopting a sustainable budget that is balanced, doesn't use one-time financial gimmicks, and begins to re-establish priorities important to residents such as infrastructure repairs, quality sports fields and adequate emergency reserves.

Unfunded liabilities, which are commitments we've made to our employees, must also be addressed as soon as possible.

The cuts needed to balance next year's budget will be painful — which is why past councils opted to tap into reserves instead of balancing the city's books. (Credit to Councilman Eric Bever, who warned us many times that the city was headed down a dangerous financial path.) We've let our reserves get so low that our credit rating has been downgraded, and we're now in danger of running out of cash in December before our coffers are replenished with property tax revenues.

It's critical that we begin to spend less than we take in to keep the city's finances out of intensive care. And once Costa Mesa is stabilized, we need to practice preventative medicine to insure the city's budget remains healthy for years to come.

The prescription for Costa Mesa's long-term financial health is based on a healthy dose of common sense.

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