The current City Council majority likes to tout its skill in balancing the budget, but a review of recent budgets tells a different story.
Did you know that the Fiscal Year 2014-2015 Budget appropriates $139.9 million on anticipated revenues of just $132.8 million? And that’s not all. Every budget adopted over the past four years has been similarly out of balance.
That’s right. In four years of rising revenues, the Righeimer Council has yet to adopt a budget that balances spending and revenues.
Every budget adopted for the past four years has relied on savings in order to balance. In four years, Jim Righeimer has never voted for a truly balanced budget, with planned spending at or below anticipated revenue.
As revenues have risen, the urge to spend has followed. Appropriations increased 28 percent from Fiscal Year 2010-2011 to FY 2014-2015.
It isn’t unusual for a City to go into savings for a major construction project, as would have occurred under our adopted budgets, but the money has to be saved up in the first place. Costa Mesa could have been in real financial trouble if we’d hit another financial bump in the road.
Fortunately for Costa Mesa’s financial future, tax revenues are at record levels. In addition, it wasn’t possible for city staff to get the money out the door as fast as some on the City Council may have liked.
So what about those much-vaunted capital improvements?
Capital improvement spending has remained relatively modest, when compared to pre-recessionary years. In the past, the City rehabilitated as many as fifty miles of arterial streets in a single year as well as repaving numerous residential streets (2007-2008). In recent years it's been less than half that.
Spending is below the amounts appropriated, not yet rebounding to pre-recessionary levels. A good thing, too. If all appropriated funds had been spent, we’d really be in the hole.
At the same time, it is important that we maintain our infrastructure and not allow it to degrade. But as we pursue major projects we must make sure we have appropriate priorities.
City beautification is nice, but with all our other pressing needs, should that be a priority? The new landscaping on Harbor Boulevard is lovely, but is it really the best use of our tax dollars, as well as our residents' time stuck in construction traffic, as we pay contractors to rip out pink stamped concrete and replace it with rocks that look like ... er... gray stamped concrete?
Not to mention the Manolo Blahniks of the crosswalks world. Just like Manolo stilettos, they look great, but cost a bundle and are impractical for their ostensible purpose, i.e. walking.
Let's spend our infrastructure dollars wisely.
Right now, Costa Mesa still needs to consider all spending very carefully—and not call a budget “balanced” when it’s balanced by our hard earned savings.