Costa Mesa approves $174-million budget, putting off some projects and hires

The Costa Mesa Fire Department celebrates the reopening of Fire Station No. 1 on Adams Avenue in September. Leftover funds from the renovation project will help the city reduce its previously planned use of reserves in the coming fiscal year.
(File Photo)

Costa Mesa has a $174-million budget for the next fiscal year, achieved by tapping some reserves and putting off some building projects and hires.

The City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday night, with members Sandy Genis and Allan Mansoor dissenting, to accept the spending plan for fiscal 2019-20, which begins July 1.

For the record:

10:05 a.m. June 20, 2019This article originally described Brett Eckles as a city parks commissioner. He is actually a former commissioner.

Councilwoman Andrea Marr said the city cares about spending money on resolving homelessness, addressing sober-living homes and other priorities, leading to the use of about $455,000 in reserves.

“I can totally live with that, but I think we have to balance that” by looking at other funding sources, such as bonds and increased bed taxes and business license fees, she said.

The approved budget came after revisions in recent weeks dropped the previously proposed use of reserves by about $2.7 million — from $3.15 million to about $437,000.

The reserve usage crept up to $455,000 on Tuesday after Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds recommended that the city hire a mechanic it had planned to delay and Marr persuaded the majority to restore the hiring of an energy services and sustainability manager.

The revised budget de-funded $625,000 in field improvement designs at Parsons, Kaiser and Davis elementary schools, planned in partnership with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. The work would allow the fields to be used year-round.

Former city parks commissioner Brett Eckles asked that the money be restored in the 2020-21 budget to let city staff finish joint-use agreements with the school district, which he said were “that close,” holding his fingers a couple of inches apart.

Lance Yurada, a volunteer regional commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Organization, said school property is the only way teams will get more needed field space and that the school district is ready to chip in.

“Newport-Mesa school district right now, they have their arms open,” he said. “They want a big hug from the city.”

Ultimately, on Marr’s recommendation, the council agreed to put the $625,000 for the fields in the budget for fiscal 2020-21.

Other items delayed in this year’s budget revisions included a handful of staffing enhancements in the code enforcement, public services, finance and information technology departments. The city also will put off design for the reconstruction of Fire Station No. 2, City Hall improvements and a broad package of beautification and infrastructure upgrades on the Westside.

It also will use restricted park funds rather than general fund dollars to cover a Fairview Park storm drain project and draw money from expected leftover funding from several projects, including the refreshed Fire Station No. 1.

One project the city didn’t put off is $700,000 in elevator upgrades at City Hall.

Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens asked about the possible consequences of deferring those upgrades for a year. He said he hadn’t been stuck in the lifts or known anybody who has been, but a few people in the audience laughed knowingly.

Public Services Director Raja Sethuraman said the elevators, which date to 1967 and were last overhauled in 1995, are on “borrowed time.”

He said the elevator cars are known to get stuck with passengers inside and to alternate being offline. He said it’s better to address them while they still have some life left.

“The parts for those are no longer available,” Sethuraman said. “The last time we had to fix something, we had to go on eBay and try to get parts.”

Genis and Mansoor preferred to delay the budget vote for a week. Genis said she had unanswered questions about special event and committee costs, and both agreed that the economy is slowing and now is the time to be prudent.

Genis said the city should be rebuilding reserves and investing in capital projects like sidewalk linkages and cut back on events, travel, paid council aides and less-popular recreation programs.

“We shouldn’t be going into our reserves when it’s not a recessionary period,” she said. “We have no unique circumstances other than that we aren’t able to bite the bullet and cut where we need to, and that’s really unfortunate.”

Police Department funding for 2019-20 didn’t get much discussion Tuesday night but has been a contentious topic in recent weeks.

In May, Police Chief Rob Sharpnack strongly criticized a proposal to increase his department’s budget only from $49.2 million to $49.7 million. City leaders have been trying to ease that strain, and staff recommended delaying further discussion of Sharpnack’s budget requests “until a thorough analysis can be performed.”

“It’s going to be obviously very difficult to fund everything the Police Department is asking for, but we should at least make an attempt,” Mansoor said.

The council will take another look at revenue and spending after the first quarter of the new fiscal year and in light of a fee study and informational technology strategic plan expected to be finished by November.

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This story originally misidentified Brett Eckles and has since been corrected.