Costa Mesa Council Will Take Early Look at Next Year’s Budget

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Residents in Costa Mesa will get their first glimpse Tuesday evening of budget priorities for the next fiscal year, with the City Council majority looking to increase spending on road maintenance and employee retirement costs.

Local residents will also have an opportunity to speak on the budget discussion during the public comment period. The final budget, which won’t be approved until a later meeting, would take effect July 1.

“It’s an introduction to the proposed 2012-13 budget, so it will be a view from 30,000 feet,” city spokesman Bill Lobdell said in an email. Costa Mesa may also consider cutting costs by eliminating vacant employee positions, he added.

Members of the council majority recently began emphasizing road improvements as a crucial area for increased spending.

If streets aren’t re-coated at least every seven years, they must be re-paved 5 to 10 years sooner, Councilman Steve Mensinger said. He said re-coating costs the city $0.50 per square foot, while completely replacing a road costs $5.50.

Mensinger has pointed to flooding on Wallace Avenue as an example of the need to focus on road maintenance. The area has flooded several times in recent years, he said.

Not everyone is convinced that infrastructure needs are as dire as the council majority asserts.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece says the drainage problems on Wallace should be fixed but she knows of flooding at only one other location.

“We can’t just generalize and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got millions of dollars of infrastructure’ ” needs, said Leece.

Another focus of the council majority has been on having the city voluntarily pay more toward its unfunded pension liability.

Costa Mesa’s unfunded liability stands at around $134 million, meaning that during the next 30 years the city has promised about $134 million more in benefits to retirees than it’s expected to have available. The figure, which sharply rose in recent years because of the recession, drops when the economy improves.

Because of the unfunded liability, the city is required to pay more each year to begin covering the difference.

When facing larger pension payments, the city can either negotiate with employees to contribute more toward their retirement benefits or increase its annual pension payment.

The council majority is advocating paying about $500,000 a year more than the required payments toward the unfunded liability.

— NICK GERDA

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