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Hatch: No more city job hires

Editor's note: This adds that pension costs are going down based on city estimates.

COSTA MESA — Don't expect to see help wanted signs at Costa Mesa City Hall any time soon.

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In a Wednesday night discussion with Mesa Verde Community Inc., Tom Hatch pledged to not expand the municipal workforce as long as he is the city's chief executive. Hatch will fill key vacant positions, such as police chief, but does not plan to grow the overall size of the workforce, which will likely be served by more contractors if the City Council's restructuring plans are put into effect.

"As long as I'm our leader, I'll make sure we don't do that," Hatch told Mesa Verde residents at their monthly meeting, which doubled as an opportunity to meet the first new city manager in about 20 years. "Our revenue sources don't allow us to expand. We can't afford to expand on recurring costs."

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Though the city projects an additional $2 million this year in sales tax revenue, the city's temperamental cash cow, and a steady income from its second biggest earner, property taxes, there are few if any options to generate new, significant amounts of money, city officials said.

Even with increased revenue, city leaders estimate a $3 million to $5 million initial shortfall. It's a mixture of increased spending on capital improvements and employee pension costs, among other things, council members argue.

However, the city's own estimates show that pension costs are expected to decrease this next year because of increased employee contributions.

The city is in the midst of laying off 213 city workers for privatized workers as part of a broad restructuring to balance city expenditures and revenues.

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The projected budget shortfall doesn't calculate in potential savings from outsourcing city services, which would take effect months into the next fiscal year.

Residents and the council will discuss the city's budgeted expenditures and potential cuts at Tuesday night's council meeting.

Hatch's no-hiring pledge came in the middle of his seven-point presentation on his goals for Costa Mesa since taking over in March. Of the goals he laid out, arguably only one has been accomplished: increasing communication and information for the public by hiring two temporary communications managers.

Others, like balancing the budget, hiring department heads (Costa Mesa currently has interims leading police, fire, finance and administrative services), creating an interdepartmental team to address city issues and reinvesting in capital improvements, simply require time or council approval.

Hatch elaborated on what he is looking for in department heads: character.

He said he values that in a candidate more so than expertise or skills. The audience offered little response, but one resident explained what she thought it meant.

"Character is you either have it, or you don't," Cathy Waters said. "You can learn skills and expertise on the job."

The final two goals on the list Hatch presented to residents — improving Costa Mesa's image and uniting the community — could be the hardest to come by if recent media coverage, City Council sessions and Wednesday's night's audience is any indication.

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"I heard a lot of talk and not a lot of specifics," said Mesa Verde resident Tom Jones. "I have mixed emotions. He did OK."

"Nothing changed for me," said Jim Mansfield, a 30-year Costa Mesa resident after Hatch's presentation. "His plan sounded pretty good on paper. But it's really driven by the City Council."

Councilman Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer were also in attendance.

Newport-Mesa school board member Dave Brooks was also there and, toward the end of the meeting, he came out in strong support for Costa Mesa maintaining the police helicopter he had a hand in developing 30 years ago when he was a officer with the city.

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