Costa Mesa officials announced this week that they are closer to reaching an agreement with the city's largest employee union.
But officials on both sides say some significant challenges remain.
After the City Council discussed the contracts in closed session for nearly two hours Tuesday, Costa Mesa's chief negotiator, Richard Kreisler, said an auditing analysis shows the offers from the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. and city both include savings compared to the current contract.
If the CMCEA's contract was to continue unchanged, however, it would cost the city about $23.56 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year — a $3.4-million increase from the previous year, Kreisler said.
"That's just the status-quo increase to fund employee benefits," he said.
Costa Mesa's proposal, presented Nov. 13, costs about $22.1 million, a savings of about $1.46 million.
The union's proposal, presented Nov. 21, would cost $22.69 million — a savings of some $875,000.
The difference between the two is nearly $600,000 — "just in dollar issues," Kreisler said.
Mayor Jim Righeimer on Wednesday said he felt the union's proposal, as is, still has language that has "the association controlling the city."
It contains some short-term benefits rather than long-term ones, he said.
"We want the CEO and the City Council to run the city," Righeimer said, "not have a contract run the city."
The nearly $600,000 difference doesn't address other issues, such as the millions of dollars in sick and vacation pay from a generous plan for which the city is liable, Righeimer added.
"We want to get that liability off the books or have it lowered," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., which provides negotiation and legal counsel for the CMCEA, said the reported financial differences seem "exaggerated."
"But we'll withhold judgment until we have an opportunity to see the city's analysis," said Jennifer Muir in an email Wednesday. "Meanwhile, we continue working diligently to reach a fair agreement, as we have since the beginning of negotiations. And we have crafted our proposals aiming to be both sensitive to the council's interests and fair to the city's employees.
"Our interest remains in providing the best services to Costa Mesa residents at competitive costs."
The CMCEA has been negotiating since August. The roughly 200-member group's contract expired in March.
The association is made up of municipal workers, including some non-sworn personnel from the police and fire departments.