Community Commentary: When it comes to spending, 'enough is enough'

At a rural elementary school several miles outside the city of Stockton, I learned a valuable lesson on my way home. A schoolmate of mine, Kurt, had been the subject of persistent teasing, taunting and ridicule. At the age of 6, while walking home with Kurt, somewhere on Nassano Drive, I lost my innocence. Enough is enough! I dropped my books and tackled the other boy, ripped my shirt and broke my Johnny Quest lunch box in the process.

Fast forward 43 years and a handful of days: enough is enough!

Costa Mesa has a spending problem. One need not be a detective to identify the fingerprints of the culprit. Our current budget crisis is the responsibility of those we elected. I would admit that the rank and file took what they were given, I would suggest that the associations that represented the rank and file got what they could, but in the end, we elected leaders affirmed these agreements and locked us into the inflexible instruments that were unsustainable.

Now it's time to get our fiscal house in order. We will be facing many tough decisions that will affect the lives of real people. I, for one, will be the first to say thank you to those who serve us as public employees. They chose a career to serve others, not be disparaged. Many were dismayed by out-of-town police officers driving an Escalade with campaign signs in tow. However, this was the fringe in the department and lessons have hopefully been learned.

Our city has a spending problem. It is pure mathematics. In business, you have an obligation to the shareholders to balance your budget, and it is inconceivable that you would submit a budget that is not balanced.

Whether you are running a city or a company, you have a fiduciary obligation to your shareholders. Unfunded liabilities and unbalanced budgets are incompatible with the success of any city or organization.

"Enough is enough" does not mean we abandon our principles of having the finest police and fire departments in the county. We are simply saying we will have the finest police and fire that we can afford. We have symbiotic priorities that have been forgotten for too many years.

"Enough is enough" means no more kicking the can down the road on better schools and facilities.

"Enough is enough" applies to our leaders who ignore the exodus of students to schools outside of our city.

"Enough is enough" has higher expectations on infrastructure, better roads and expanded parks.

Spending 88% of your city general funds on compensation is just plain silly.

The problem is not the men and women of police and fire, nor the various associations that represent our city employees. They are simply doing what they are designed to do. Our problem has been electing leaders who clearly don't understand the art of saying, "no".

Our challenge going forward will be to structurally change the way we manage our city budget and deliver our services. What is the mission of our city? Obviously, law and order are not precluded. At the same time, no one could argue that in order for our community to be vibrant, we need investment in infrastructure to attract new families and businesses and the vitality they bring.

I am optimistic about our city's future. We have solid revenue generators and an enviable tax base. Our hotel district is second to none, and our new city CEO, Tom Hatch, is one of the most astute, community-minded leaders I have ever met. A city is not defined by its police helicopter program or the number of street sweepers. While each of these may contribute greatly to the city's mission, our success will be defined by the quality of residents we attract.

I am optimistic that the majority of the citizens in our community now understand why their leaders must have the courage to do what is right and make tough decisions with respect to how we use your tax dollars.

The opportunity for meaningful reform is upon us. Enough is enough!

Now if I could only find that lunch box.

STEVE MENSINGER is a Costa Mesa city councilman

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