Commentary: City budget is a step in wrong direction

On July 1, the city of Costa Mesa fiscal year 2012-13 budget will take effect. This is the financial plan that the current City Council adopted that includes many beatification and parks capital improvement projects that the council approved over health and safety projects that are needed in the city. It is the same budget that Councilmen Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan, and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer used to approve projects that benefit their friends and neighbors who they will seek support from in the November elections.

In their zeal to beautify the city, they put the city at substantial financial risk. The Public Works Department conducted a survey of the citywide sidewalk uplifting damage repairs needed in the city to reduce their legal liability. This consisted of removal and reconstructing 30,000 square feet of sidewalk areas, removal and replacement of 120 trees, installation of 1,200 lineal feet of rot barriers and grinding down of 4,000 square feet of sidewalks.

The estimated cost: $502,848. The city only budgeted $100,000 for fiscal year 2012-13 and they reduced their city maintenance crews. The survey was not accurate and complete. For example, the uplifting sidewalks along the north side of South Coast Drive between Harbor Boulevard and Susan Street were not identified. So I believe that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that are not accounted for in the city's sidewalk repair program.

But here are the more interesting facts. The city is a self-insured governmental agency. What that means is that if they are found to be legally responsible for a claim against the city, such as a citizen tripping, falling and getting hurt due to the lack of maintenance and repair of the sidewalks, the city is responsible for the first $2 million in damages.

They then have excess insurance coverage of an additional $20 million for judgments and settlements. If the claim goes to litigation or trial, it is possible that fault could be placed with the city and potentially require the city to compensate for all damages. Where would it find the $2 million to settle the claim? More, importantly, if it went to trial, I suspect a judge would be very concerned that the city was aware of the sidewalk situations and chose to spend their financial resources for beautification and parks, rather than correcting the hazardous conditions.

The fact that the council has adopted a budget knowing that these sidewalk conditions exist is gross negligence and a gamble on its part. This has put the city's financial future at substantial risk simply for its own political gain in an election year. Will someone trip and fall on the uplifted sidewalks? I don't know, but to take the financial and liability risk is a gamble that prudent decision-makers should not take with the precious resources of the city when the city is in financial crises. Prudent decision-making is far better than "pork-barrel" spending.

MARSHALL KRUPP is a candidate for the Costa Mesa City Council.

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