Commentary: Public safety is Costa Mesa’s highest priority


Confusion about the budget process, especially regarding the Police Department budget, compelled us to write this commentary.

Public safety and fighting crime is Costa Mesa’s highest priority. Our fiscal 2019-20 budget for police, fire and paramedic services is $77,957,259. This amount is 45% of our entire city budget and a $2-million total increase over last year.

The Costa Mesa Police Department general fund budget this year is a staggering, almost $10 million increase over 2016-17.

Although each public safety department has vacancies, the proposed budget anticipates full staffing because our goal is to grow, not contract, in these departments.

To retain and recruit police officers, we approved increasing each officer’s healthcare benefits from $631 to $2,119 monthly. This moved our department to the top tier of compensation for our surrounding cities. Plus, we funded Police Chief Rob Sharpnack’s request for a mobile command vehicle at a cost of more than $1 million and $327,000 for a new shooting range remodel.

The city also invested in public safety by defending our sober-living home ordinance in numerous federal court cases and by opening a temporary bridge shelter and purchasing a building for a permanent shelter to provide shelter and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness in Costa Mesa.

Currently we are unable to increase our public safety budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year any further without substantially drawing down our reserves. Cuts are proposed to budget items in various other departments, and we will continue to look for cost savings.

The city’s financial office is projecting only a 2% increase in revenues. This is due to a number of factors, including the slowing economy. As the year progresses, as has always been our practice, we will continue to monitor revenue and spending. If the revenue projections are too low, we will consider adjusting the budget for high-priority services accordingly.

Finally, we are requiring each department to employ more prudent fiscal management practices. For the fiscal year 2019-20 proposed budget, the city followed the Government Finance Officers Assn. best practice of recognizing each department’s vacancy factor at the department level, which more accurately reflects the salary and benefit needs of the individual departments and provides budgetary controls.

The bottom line is our public safety budgets are, and will continue to be, our highest priority.

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Katrina Foley is the mayor of Costa Mesa; John Stephens is mayor pro tem.