Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer wants to reallocate $5 million to $6 million in the city budget for improvements in the city's infrastructure, such as roads, sidewalks, sports fields and flood-prone areas.
But that could mean cuts to public safety, personnel and other crucial services, warned Councilwoman Wendy Leece.
During the March 20 council meeting, Righeimer asked city CEO Tom Hatch to suggest about $5 million in reductions that could then be reallocated toward the $12.2 million in unfunded projects planned for 2012-13.
The cuts, Righeimer said, would allow the council to start prioritizing which projects should be funded.
"I obviously think we're going to have to sit down again and go through this and start itemizing these things, because I don't see us finding $12 million," he said. "On the other hand, we're just not going to kick this thing again and not do the things we say need done in the community."
The council has adopted a plan through 2016-17 that lists $110.6 million worth of projects and improvements. Needs outlined for next year include $1.4 million for alley improvements, $100,000 for libraries, $3.8 million for drainage improvements and $2 million for the Sports Fields Master Plan.
"I don't support arbitrarily cutting positions or just putting a number out and saying we want to cut $5 million when there is no real basis," Leece said. "It's just a number out of the air. We've already cut millions and laid off people, and I think we need to have a little breathing room."
Mayor Eric Bever said that the numbers were not pulled from thin air and that the money will come from unfilled positions that will be eliminated.
The vacancy list, though, is a starting point, Hatch said.
The list includes 40 full-time positions from the CEO's office, and the Finance, Police, Fire, Development Services and Public Services departments. Mentioned positions include three custody officers, four fire captains, three fire engineers, two code enforcement officers, a city engineer and a recreation manager.
Hatch said he will need time to compile a comprehensive plan. Righeimer said he expects more cuts than just eliminating vacant positions to get to $5 million.
Leece brought up concerns that eliminating some of the vacant positions could impact policy and safety services.
"We [have] got to look at everything, and if the service level goes down and our response times are longer, then people need to understand that," she said. "And that's kind of what we've been talking about for the last 18 months or so: making the cuts and the reality being that it's going to change the service level.
"Are we going to fill potholes and fix alleys, or are we going to get to the emergencies or the fires or the crimes within what is a reasonable amount of time?"
Bever said the positions are vacant so they shouldn't affect current service levels.
Councilman Steve Mensinger added that the projects are more important than just filling in potholes.
"These are not potholes," he said. "These are things where people's houses flood. We have conditions that are atrocious. I just want to make sure the public is clear — this is not about potholes."