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Costa Mesa City Council OKs cuts, approves budget

Hours of public comments keep the meeting lasting long into the early morning, with some hissing at the council and cheers for its critics.

June 22, 2011|By Mike Reicher, Lauren Williams and Mona Shadia, mike.reicher@latimes.com
  • Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer addresses the audience during a City Council meeting regarding the budget Tuesday.
Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer addresses the audience… (Kevin Chang, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — After listening to hours of complaints about cuts to the Police Department and other criticisms, the City Council early Wednesday morning approved about $6 million in cuts and adopted a balanced budget for the fiscal year 2011-12.

The council voted 4 to 1, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting.

While the $115-million budget funds most of the current city services, it sets a tone of austerity that the council majority hopes to continue into the fall, when council members plan to have a final vote on outsourcing half the city's staff.

Some Costa Mesa leaders have drawn national attention for their conservative reform proposals they say are necessary to save the city from crushing pension costs. Employee unions and other critics argue that the council majority has exaggerated the crisis to advance its own political agenda.

"I'm very happy with this budget," said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who championed the cuts.

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Atop of the $3.3 million savings to plug the budget deficit, he requested last week that the city cut an additional $2.8 million to set aside some money for contingencies. All of the savings were approved at the meeting.

In the standing-room-only council chambers Tuesday, Righeimer and Mayor Gary Monahan tried to quiet the crowd. People hissed at them and cheered for the council's critics, like one who sang a country ballad blasting council members, and another who said the council had waged a "hostile takeover" of the city. At one point, Monahan threatened to adjourn the meeting to calm everyone down.

The most contentious item was a Police Department restructuring estimated to save up to $1.8 million annually. The plan would reduce the number of active officers from 139 to 131.  An earlier proposal also considered replacing the two sworn school police officers with three non-sworn employees, but the council rejected that idea. Instead, it decided to keep the two school police officers. Also, council members suggested adding reserve officers at the schools, or spreading out the current officers’ schedules so they work five days a week, instead of four.

Righeimer said that "many of us roll around at night and can't sleep because we have to lay off somebody, and it's not an easy job."

The police proposals helped spur the resignation Monday of interim Police Chief Steve Staveley.

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