Friday, June 5, 2009

CM PRESS # 714

[Don't forget to REFRESH when visiting the CM PRESS for the latest.]
Government expands quickly to use every bit of money it can get. Wouldn't it be nice if it could contract as quickly when it gets less money?
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In good times, the common people eat steak. In bad times, they don't starve, they just switch to hamburger. Why does government insist on steak both in good and bad times?
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Reader submitted over-the-transom column
Every year Costa Mesa, like many cities, delivers a projection of income and expenses to the elected City Council.

It's the job of the Council to provide "oversight." In this case, to review the way our money will be spent in the coming year. It is at this precise point that any comparison to a true budget process and the Costa Mesa "give away our money budget" begin to differ.

Here in CM, the budget is used as a statement of approval. In other words, if staff puts an item in the budget and council does not specifically reject it (or know it is there)it is considered to be an approved expenditure. Council silence is acceptance in this case.

Keep the following in mind as you read on. Cities are incorporated entities, like many businesses, except they are formed to provide for the general benefit of the people who live in that city. They do things like pass rules, gather taxes, repair public facilities, enforce laws, put out fires and similar things that seem to be better done by a City than by individuals.

A secondary benefit of this "incorporation" is to promote employment of the people of the incorporated area through the distribution of the collected taxes. It just makes sense; use the residents' money to create jobs and opportunities for the residents of the city.

This last part above gets a little sticky here in Costa Mesa. If taxes are used to promote local employment, then it follows that those people receiving the benefit of those taxes, should be, in some large part, the tax payers of Costa Mesa themselves.

That process is the factor that gives a community it's legitimacy. Those receiving the benefits, are those providing the rules that permit the taxing that pays for those items while experiencing both the benefits and possible damages created by those actions.

You get it. It's supposed to be a never ending circle--a symbiotic relationship between the residents of Costa Mesa and their local government.

Unfortunately, some enterprising folks figured out how to break that circle that benefits residents who are paying the bills, by:

1-Taking the oversight process out of the loop.
2-Taking the residents out of the general benefits picture.
By doing the two things above, the enterprising folks are able to write their own checks using tax payer funds. This makes the residents of the City the tax-slaves to the employees and puts the employees in charge.
When employees are in charge, they can then decide how much to pay their friends and in other ways benefit them.

To further this scheme, the enterprising folks can complicate or confuse the oversight process by delivering the budget (permission document)without adequate time for the Council to review it.

Remember, in Costa Mesa, staff recently requested that Council approve a policy that the budget had to be approved by Council by a certain date, but no such restriction was placed on the time to deliver that budget to Council for approval and proper oversight (there's that word again.)
Take a look at the City's budget (here).

--Turn to the page that discusses new parks and athletic fields, can't find it? Hmmmm.

--OK than let's look at the discussion of distributing the taxes through employment opportunities. Hmmmm. That section missing too?

--How about the part where funds would be distributed back into the local economy to improve the unemployment picture. Hmmmm. That's also missing?
How odd.


We can just approve this 100 million dollar plus budget and send most of our money out of town. Who will know the difference? Right?

Of the 100 plus million, almost 90 percent is spent on employees who refuse to live in Costa Mesa, and who thus don't get to experience, on a daily basis, the full results of their efforts. Say, how about that 36 percent increase in violent crime, huh? If you don't live here, you're not that concerned about it.

If you're concerned about these matters, and you should be, because the budget is directly tied to your quality of life in Costa Mesa, email or talk to the City Councilmembers, and demand that they fix the budget this year.

You might also want to go to the budget meetings and ask to see the very line and the very page where your specific benefits--the things that affect you and your family--are being nurtured.
I won't bore you with the compensation ranges that you and I pay our employees--yes, they are our employees--but suffice it to say that we are indeed very generous employers, since we pay a great majority of our employees much more than we ourselves make in the private sector. In fact we pay more in overtime to some of our employees than many residents make in their regular pay in the private sector.
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In reviewing Costa Mesa's budget, we were again struck by the use of the catch-phrase "high level of service," and its progeny, to justify wasteful spending by the municipal government.

Without getting into specifics (which we may do in future issues) the municipal government--which includes the City Council--just doesn't understand frugality. Even with the proposed cuts to make up the deficit, the budget is full of lard.

Here's the link to the budget. If you have the time and inclination, you might want to go through it line by line and see if you can see the lard we see.

If you do look at the budget, do your own internal translation of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo to plain English. Also, don't be taken in by the self-congratulationary fluff that you'll read in parts of the budget. At its heart, this budget is no different from your own family budget.

One thing you'll notice is that most of our money--about 75 cents of every dollar the City takes in--goes out the window in employee salaries and benefits. That leaves a measly two bits for everything else.

What you won't see in black and white is the fact that most of these employees don't even live in Costa Mesa. When we pay them, they take our money back to their own cities where they spend the money instead of circulating it in Costa Mesa.

That has to change. We need Costa Mesans to fill City jobs. Then, at least part of the high salaries we pay will come back to us. If we were an expensive city to live in such as Newport Beach, employees would be justified in saying that they can't afford to live here, but Costa Mesa is affordable for the great majority of our City employees.

As you look at the budget, imagine that each dollar spent is coming exclusively from your own wallet. We'll bet you can find many things that you'd cut and never miss.

See if you can ferret out many of the hidden costs and how they can be cut. For example, and we've written about this before, Costa Mesa is in a semi-arid area. So, why does the City insist on trying to maintain lush green grass on medians and elsewhere in the City? It doesn't naturally grow here so it has to be on expensive life support with constant care. And, what about all the water that is wasted to keep the grass alive? Don't ask.

We're not talking chump change and all we're talking about is grass. Consider all the rest of the crap that your money is being spent on to provide you with a "high level of service."

Ever try to get a "high level of service" by having the cops respond to some simple matter--such as keeping grade school kids safe--and end up talking to some wise-ass Sgt. who doesn't live here and who has no kids in our schools and who is making a couple hundred thousand dollars and who sneers at you and tells you that it's okay for cars to park with engines running in front of a red curb where they endanger grade school kids who must dart between the cars? That's a high level of service?
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Speaking of the CMPD, did you notice that when a politician's son was arrested, that the Daily Pilot seemed to almost immediately have the story and even a booking photo of the man?

Now, how did that happen? The CM PRESS gets all the same press releases that the other media get, and we didn't get anything on this. Not a peep.

Of course, we wouldn't have published it even if we had received it, because we consider the private lives and families of our local politicians to be just that--private. Still....

We've heard some in the community wonder whether or not someone in the CMPD called the Pilot and gave them the information right away in order to try to embarrass the politician who some cops tried to defeat when the politician ran for the Council.

What? Political motives from some in the CMPD? Who'd a thunk it? [Trivia alert: I actually had that line "Who'd a thunk it? in a play I once did].
Well, hmmmm, political cops? Hmmm. Well, there is that matter of the Police Union trying to defeat several of the presently seated Councilmembers and there were even some cops out running around neighborhoods handing out leaflets for a couple of failed Council candidates.

Did we mention that more than 75% of Costa Mesa's police officers make so much money that they don't even have to live in Costa Mesa and choose to live in nicer safer cities?

And, did we mention that Costa Mesa saw a 36% increase in violent crime last year over the year before? Might our violent crime rate be lower if more cops had their spouses and children here in Costa Mesa?
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Those are our opinions. Thanks for reading them.

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