"It looks to me like another crisis was created to justify more layoffs," said Robin Leffler, a resident and member of a community group that opposes the council majority.
The council, led by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger, demanded city staff come up with a zero-sum budget that does not dip into reserves. Meanwhile, the two have also called for the city to lay out its long-term needs looking out at least five years, with the city setting aside money to reach those goals.
In doing that, the council turned what was a surplus earlier this year turn into a deficit as the spending projects piled up. To fund the difference, the city approved eliminating 11 vacant positions and laying off four employees — three office specialists whose base pay is less than $60,000 and an information technology manager whose base pay is more than $120,000.
Righeimer said he regretted the layoffs but that he was confident the four would land on their feet.
"The people who get hired in Costa Mesa are top-quality people," he said. "I'm sure they'll get hired. Now, will it be this kind of [benefits] package? Maybe not. Maybe they'll have to go into the real world and see what it's like in the private sector."
Costa Mesa's general fund — consisting of sales, property and transient occupancy tax revenue, among others — was about $101 million, or 6% greater, than last year. Salaries and benefits take up about 71% of the general fund, with maintenance and operations taking up nearly 21%.
By city department, police take up 38.7% of the general fund, fire is 20.2%, public services are 18% and the CEO's office is 5.8%.
In other action, the council also signed on for three more years with Huntington Beach police to use that city's police helicopter. The service comes with a $300,000 annual price tag.
The city also booted its auditing firm, Mayer, Hoffman, McCann. The city cited mistakes made by one of Mayer, Hoffman, McCann's former clients: the scandal-ridden city of Bell. Instead, it agreed to work with auditing firm Nelson Diehl Evans, which costs about $20,000 more annually.