Community Commentary: Thanks to council for long-term planning

I managed to stay awake past 1 a.m. the other morning to watch the City Council pass a balanced budget on time — something they can never seem to do in Sacramento.

Congratulations to the council for passing a budget that addresses a long-term plan for our city. Special thanks goes to City Manager/CEO Tom Hatch and his budget team for making some critical personnel changes and cuts to address the current economic climate we are in.

I don't know Hatch, but I have become a big fan.

Some of the things that stand out to me in this budget: The city was able to enter a deal with the city of Huntington Beach to keep helicopter patrol service. My friends and neighbors all agree that the helicopter is vital to the overall safety of our city, but the previous ABLE helicopter program was a significant drain of money. We simply couldn't afford ABLE anymore. We're all glad that we will still have a helicopter in Costa Mesa under this new and more affordable plan. If it is successful, I hope we will see additional flight time added for our city.

Likewise, I was pleased to see the city find money to save the Student Resource Officers (SROs), also known as the police officers in our schools. Our children attended Costa Mesa schools, and I'm gratified to see our council understand the importance of keeping our kids safe. I think the council heard from the community loud and clear on this one.

Perhaps most important, our City Council has made long-overdue investments in improving the infrastructure of our city. Costa Mesa was incorporated nearly 60 years ago. Since that time, council after council has been "kicking the can" on infrastructure, saying we never have any money. This long-term neglect has begun to show.

For our city to remain a safe and attractive location for families and business, we need to maintain it. At some point, the excuses must stop. Glad to see the council has started to prioritize these things for the city.

As I watched the meeting the other night, I noted several residents complain that our council was cutting public safety. I just don't see that. Our Fire Department was not cut at all and remains the best in the county. The police restructuring plan cuts the department only 3.5%, with some of those cuts literally vanishing if people retire. Most of the decision-making on the police cuts will come from the new police chief, whom we are anxiously awaiting.

While other cities are gutting their police and fire departments because of the recession, or outsourcing these services to other agencies, to see our city have to make such minor cuts to our public safety departments is reassuring. With a balanced budget in place, it's now time to hire a great police chief to continue to keep this city safe.

This current council has been under a microscope lately. I'm so pleased to see that they could separate the passion, drama and heated rhetoric and pass a balanced budget that is good for the long-term benefit of the city in these tough economic times. A budget passed on time! For that, you have my thanks and that of my neighbors and friends.

PHILLIP LESH is a 23-year resident of Costa Mesa.

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