Costa Mesa budget deadline looms

The Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. recently gave city officials a list of 19 money-saving proposals in hopes of protecting members' jobs.

The City Council decided to postpone voting on its budget until Tuesday to review answers to the questions and suggestions posed by the association.

“Some of them would be a flip of the switch; other ones would not be,” said Bobby Young, budget and research officer.

Whether the city can implement them or not, Costa Mesa has just over a week to vote on its $108 million budget.

The proposals range from implementing four-day, 10-hour work weeks to eliminating city fans and heaters in offices to conserve electricity. Another idea is to scale back medical coverage for council members and management.

“We've done some research on trying to help solve the deficit,” said Helen Nenadal, senior maintenance technician and president of the Costa Mesa City Employee Assn. “We're trying to help them and show them where there's cost savings.”

Most of the employees who would be laid off are association members. Nenadal said she would like to see everyone in the city participate equally in balancing the budget.

Mayor Allan Mansoor said that he supports reducing medical coverage provided by the city to the council members.

Councilwoman Eric Bever cast the dissenting vote on postponing the budget vote. He said that while he commends efforts to find solutions, it's unfair to keep the employees waiting to find out if they can keep their jobs while the council takes more time to discuss suggestions that are too late to implement at this point.

“I believe that it's presumptuous of us to think that we know better than our city manager what manpower and resources are absolutely necessary to run our city,” Bever said. “As such, I support the city manager's budget as presented and I don't believe that we should be micromanaging.”

Costa Mesa is resorting to layoffs and elimination of many of its programs and services to close a projected $16.4 million gap in budget for the next fiscal year. And even with the cuts, an $8 million deficit will remain.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece said there are many ideas out there, some from the employees, others from the community, but it's a matter of sitting down and figuring out what would work.

She wouldn't comment on the association's suggestions as she hadn't gone through all of them by Friday. But she said she's devoting her weekend to the budget.

Although Costa Mesa must vote on its budget by July 1, finding ways to save programs and employees from losing their jobs doesn't end with the passage of the budget.

“If we find other revenues to save some jobs, then we can justify keeping some of them,” Leece said. “Nothing is set in concrete.”

Since the downturn of the economy began, Costa Mesa attempted to get around layoffs by cutting some services and offering early-retirement incentives. It has also relied heavily on its reserve account, which is down now by about $30 million.

But major cuts and layoffs are imminent as the city can no longer rely on its reserves, City Manager Allan Roeder has said.

The 4/10 work schedule could save the city about $56,000 a year if implemented. Reducing the city provided medical coverage could save $218,000.

But grounding the AirBourne Law Enforcement (ABLE) program wouldn't save the city that much, as it has already been reduced.

In addition, grounding it would eliminate the revenues the city makes from its partnership with other cities.

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