Costa Mesa wish list would require $81 million [Corrected]

Costa Mesa would need $81 million in additional revenue to complete a list of spending projects over the next five years.

That's according to the wish list the council created last month to prioritize and execute the city's needs and wants.

"Even though you may not have the funding source today, you still need to cast the need in the form of a budget so you can understand the scope and magnitude of what we need to generate in revenue or control in expenses to achieve that goal," said Councilman Steve Mensinger. "It can't become a priority if you don't know about it."

An earlier version was missing the word "wants" in the second paragraph. Additionally, the headline incorrectly said $81 million is needed. The city would only need that much if it tried to accomplish all the iniatives.

True to the council majority's word, the spending priorities laid out in the five-year projection lean heavily toward capital improvements and infrastructure.

Costa Mesa would need to spend $20 million over the next five years to improve streets to meet the council majority's standards, and $7 million to repair alleys, about 41% of which are in poor condition.

The plan projects $110 million in spending for the next five years, with projected fund balances covering nearly $30 million. If city employees continue to contribute toward their pensions at the current rate, or at a higher rate, millions more could be funded, according to the projection.

The council said it would need more than $19 million to upgrade the city's drainage system, which proved to be outdated during a weeklong deluge two years ago.

Costa Mesa's sports field and Fairview Park require together at least $19 million in rehabilitation and renovation, according to the projections. The city libraries need more than $7 million in upgrades.

Not all of it can be done in the next five years, council members said. Some can be accomplished through increased revenues, reduced expenses and possibly with a bond measure, officials said.

But a lot of it hinges on the city's current restructuring, Mensinger said.

Specifically, that refers to reforming pensions for future city employees and adopting the proposed city charter to allow the city to more easily outsource its services.

"Realistically, before we can move ahead on the 'wish list' we need to resolve our conflicts with our employees," Councilwoman Wendy Leece wrote in an email. "We can talk about all the nice things we want to spend money on, but first we need to deal with the pension liability, and that's where the employees can help the city and agree to pay more into our 'unfunded liability.'"

"We need to look at our priorities and proceed slow each year," she continued. "It sounds good to appease some interest groups, but it is not realistic or fair."

The five-year projection dedicates $2.5 million toward paying down the city's pension liability — future pension payments — which is projected to grow.

One of the city's three largest employee groups, non-public safety workers, recently approved creating a second tier of pensions for new hires. The city is looking to do the same with its Fire and Police department workers as well.

"All these things can't happen at once. You can't fix the roads tomorrow," Mensinger said. "But it becomes the basis of our discussion on how much money should we spend and what do we spend it on."

Twitter: @JosephSerna

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World