Costa Mesa city CEO explains outsourcing, cuts

COSTA MESA — Tom Hatch, the city’s chief executive, laid out his justifications for outsourcing and cuts in a letter to city employees Thursday.

He said the city faces a $5-million deficit for the fiscal 2011-12 budget and that longer-term liabilities run into the tens of millions. Those costs are for pension and retiree health obligations, capital projects for roads and alleys, technological improvements and others, his letter said.

The city’s five-year plan to address these needs will “involve significant cuts to our operations and significant service level reductions,” Hatch wrote. “We cannot afford the service levels we are currently providing to the community.”

A general example of a municipal service trimmed in tight times is street sweeping, or park maintenance. City staff members are compiling a list of services that could be reduced with the least impact on residents and businesses, said William Lobdell, the city’s interim communications director.

Hatch also explained that the fiscal 2010-11 budget would be essentially balanced once the city fully decommissions its police helicopter program.

That caught the attention of Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn. With a balanced budget, she asked, “Why are they laying off half their workforce and cutting services to residents?”

Muir also questioned the $5-million deficit projection, saying it was based on initial departmental requests that are sometimes inflated and eventually trimmed down.

“It’s like saying your family needs to declare bankruptcy because your kids ask for a pony for Christmas,” she said.

Also mentioned in Hatch’s letter: The city is developing requests for outsourcing proposals, and Hatch will update staff on that progress within the next few days. He is beefing up his communications team by shifting two video production employees into his office to work with Lobdell.

Hatch concluded his letter by mentioning that some employees are creating a memorial plaque and will be planting a tree dedicated to Huy Pham, the maintenance worker who leapt to his death from the roof of City Hall on March 17 — the day the city notified more than 200 municipal workers about potential layoffs.