Hatch's budget: close, but no cigar

COSTA MESA — Chief Executive Tom Hatch presented on Tuesday a potential remedy for the budget deficit he claimed will hurt people now but cure economic woes into the future.

"He's been agonizing over this," Mayor Gary Monahan said of Hatch's suggested budget cuts that have been coming in recent weeks. "He's made some really hard, hard recommendations this year … A lot of people forget this, but this is Tom's first budget."

But just when Hatch, and most of the public, appeared to think his remedies may have satisfied the council members' requirements of a balanced budget through cuts and layoffs, a game-changing, eleventh-hour request came in.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer threw Hatch a curve and demanded an addition $2.9 million in savings.

Righeimer's suggestion, which brought an audible gasp from the sparse number of audience members remaining into the fourth hour of Tuesday's meeting, called for more money put in the city's contingency fund and for $1.5 million to fully back the vehicle replacement fund.

Hatch has been tasked with creating a zero-sum budget where city expenditures match city revenues. Previous councils used about $35 million in city reserves to plug past shortfalls as the recession set in

On the condition that the City Council next week approves a dramatic restructuring of the police department — a $1.2-million savings move involving rearranging divisions, cutting a dozen sworn officers and replacing them with non-sworn — Costa Mesa would have had enough to plug the initial $900,000 gap and then some. But that condition was before Righeimer's request.

The council will consider removing an animal control officer and an emergency medical services coordinator, and hiring consultants to explore raising the business license fee bringing in local jobs.

Hatch also revealed that Jones & Mayer — the city's contracted law firm — is running up a higher tab than expected. He requested an additional $400,000 in next year's budget for the legal costs.

Hatch will have to come back to the council soon with more suggested layoffs or program cuts if the Council expects millions more in savings.

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