Sounding Off: City expenses must be controlled

Last December I sat down with my wife, Jennie, and asked her thoughts on a possible campaign for the Newport Beach City Council.

Much to my surprise, she approved with one caveat — I had to advocate for our son Eddie's generation.

After nine months of meeting with residents, organizations, folks with a gripe, people that like the status quo and taxpayers, I've decided that Reagan Country and Barry Goldwater's summer retreat has far too much government.

We pay almost $125 million per year for almost 1,000 public employees, their salaries and benefits, included. That is 70% of our $148 million general fund budget.

We have a significant unfunded pension liability. It was recently reported by the Orange County Register that Newport's politicians have given lifetime health insurance to retired employees, resulting in another $40 million unfunded liability.

Does your company provide lifetime health insurance?

Our city of almost 85,000 has about 300 more public employees as our neighbor Costa Mesa, a city of 116,000 residents.

Defenders of our bureaucracy like to point out that Newport Beach is a "full service city" (that's bureaucrat-speak for we have our own police and fire departments). Costa Mesa is also a "full service" city — with 300 fewer employees.

Cheerleaders for the bureaucracy will tell you Newport is unique because our summer population swells daily by 100,000 beachgoers. So does Huntington Beach's — they have almost 200,000 residents and miles of beaches. They manage to handle the crowd with 1,100 employees.

I work for Allergan, one of Orange County's true success stories. The past three years have been tough on the private sector. We've had to trim our sails and lay people off. It's painful to see anyone lose their job. There is a real human cost that hurts families and the corporation.

The public sector has yet to figure out the dire circumstances of this economy. We are in a deep recession. We can't afford all government we pay for.

Newport's taxpayers are paying $101,000 in salary and benefits for someone to "manage" the city's parking lots. Another $116,000 in salary and benefits goes to our own "urban forester."

Government creep is alive and well in what is supposed to be a fiscally conservative town. For the past 20 years the politicians have let the bureaucracy grow unchecked.

It's time we changed the mindset of City Hall.

Today, I propose an aggressive privatization effort. There is no need for Newport to own its own trash company. We are the only city in Orange County that picks up our own residential garbage. Newport Coast's rubbish is efficiently collected by a private company with great success.

Ten years ago we privatized tree trimming. It took a decade to recently privatize street sweeping. These are hardly bold initiatives; rather, they are cosmetic so the bureaucracy can say they are trying to cut costs.

I submit we should privatize the building department, plan check, planning department, and information technology. I do not support privatizing police and fire; they need to remain public functions. My privatization plan would require appropriate city oversight.

These are a few places to start. If we don't start today Eddie's generation will be paying the price.

ED RENO is a District 3 candidate for the Newport Beach City Council.

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