Sounding Off: Costa Mesa should look at other options

Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy, in his Sounding Off piece published Tuesday ("Cuts needed to balance city's budget") is partially correct. Our city remains in deep trouble financially, even though the current fiscal year's numbers are better than previously projected. McCarthy has apparently been handed the songbook by his pal from their Planning Commission days, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who intends to have Costa Mesa be the tip of the lance in statewide pension reform, regardless what damage such a unilateral move would do to our city.

For the past couple years, the elected leadership of this city and the staff have turned over every stone looking for savings to protect essential services. They also proposed new revenue sources, some of which were implemented. We're just about out of rocks now, so the further expansion of drastic measures already implemented will likely have to be considered in the 2011-12 budget.

McCarthy says we cannot increase taxes and fees to balance the budget, citing the recent narrow voter approval of the increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). Well, that bump should have been more. Mayor Gary Monahan refused to support the staff-recommended 3% increase, even though there was no opposition from those who would have been most affected by it — the folks who run the hotels in town.

Additionally, we've got the lowest business license fees in the county, which while described by some as fiscally conservative, are certainly not fiscally responsible, especially in these troubled times. Previous councils have refused to consider any kind of modification to those fees, which has contributed to the mess we're in today.

McCarthy is incorrect when he states, "This city will be forced to make cuts to salaries and benefits in order to right our wayward ship," and goes on to suggest that we begin slashing staff — the sooner the better.

Before McCarthy, Righeimer and the rest of the anti-pension cabal on the City Council begin wading through the city staff with machetes, I think a little more consideration should be given to choices available to them and less to the political dogma driving their actions. Even though it doesn't fit into their plans, there are options not yet considered.

For example, recently the Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. agreed to fund a Request for Proposals to see what kind of an arrangement might be made with the Orange County Fire Authority to provide fire protection services to our city. We don't know the outcome of that RFP, but it certainly should be considered before they begin hacking away at the current staff.

Very significant concessions were given by other bargaining units during the past two years, and there's no reason to believe that at least a couple of them may not be willing to sit down with city representatives to see what options exist to help the city balance the budget. This is not the time for knee-jerk, shoot-from-the-hip reactions. It's time for calm deliberations of the facts before making fiscal decisions that will affect our city for the next decade and beyond.

There's a budget study session scheduled for Feb. 8,at which the staff will present the most current state of our fiscal condition. I suggest that McCarthy and his running buddies hit the pause button until after that meeting to see what facts area available before charging off half-cocked.

I, for one, am willing to live with a delay in some potholes being filled if it means maintaining a strong public safety presence in our city. I'm not willing to sacrifice essential municipal services just to enhance the political aspirations of a couple well-connected local politicians.

GEOFF WEST is a Costa Mesa resident and publisher of A Bubbling Cauldron, a political blog.

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