Costa Mesa council approves balanced budget

The Costa Mesa City Council has approved its second consecutive fiscal year budget, a $132-million balanced financial blueprint of the council majority's priorities of smaller government and greater infrastructure spending.

Boasting a $20-million influx of money toward street, traffic, park and storm drain spending — about twice what was allocated last year — the council on Tuesday also set aside more than $1.5 million for future projects while laying off four city employees.

The council members, with the exception of Councilwoman Wendy Leece, found themselves at odds with residents who claimed the city's spending priorities reeked of politics.

"It looks to me like another crisis was created to justify more layoffs," said Robin Leffler, a resident and member of a community group that opposes the council majority.

The council, led by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger, demanded city staff come up with a zero-sum budget that does not dip into reserves. Meanwhile, the two have also called for the city to lay out its long-term needs looking out at least five years, with the city setting aside money to reach those goals.

In doing that, the council turned what was a surplus earlier this year turn into a deficit as the spending projects piled up. To fund the difference, the city approved eliminating 11 vacant positions and laying off four employees — three office specialists whose base pay is less than $60,000 and an information technology manager whose base pay is more than $120,000.

Righeimer said he regretted the layoffs but that he was confident the four would land on their feet.

"The people who get hired in Costa Mesa are top-quality people," he said. "I'm sure they'll get hired. Now, will it be this kind of [benefits] package? Maybe not. Maybe they'll have to go into the real world and see what it's like in the private sector."

Costa Mesa's general fund — consisting of sales, property and transient occupancy tax revenue, among others — was about $101 million, or 6% greater, than last year. Salaries and benefits take up about 71% of the general fund, with maintenance and operations taking up nearly 21%.

By city department, police take up 38.7% of the general fund, fire is 20.2%, public services are 18% and the CEO's office is 5.8%.

In other action, the council also signed on for three more years with Huntington Beach police to use that city's police helicopter. The service comes with a $300,000 annual price tag.

The city also booted its auditing firm, Mayer, Hoffman, McCann. The city cited mistakes made by one of Mayer, Hoffman, McCann's former clients: the scandal-ridden city of Bell. Instead, it agreed to work with auditing firm Nelson Diehl Evans, which costs about $20,000 more annually.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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