By Sara Cardine

The following article was originally published in the Daily Pilot on June 17, 2020.

To recover from titanic revenue losses endured during the coronavirus pandemic, officials committed to nearly $10.8 million in departmental cuts, employee furloughs and draining a declared disaster relief fund.(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa City Council members effectively closed a $24-million gap forecast in the 2020-21 budget Tuesday, but what they had to do to balance the books may not bode well for city programs and services in the year ahead.

To help recover from titanic revenue losses endured through the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic, officials committed to nearly $10.8 million in departmental cuts, employee furloughs amounting to 5% and draining a declared disaster relief fund — which stood at $14.1 million at the start of the year — to zero.

Carol Molina, the city’s budget and purchasing manager, told council members Tuesday several city staff positions would not be budgeted for in upcoming fiscal year.

“We are estimating about 109 positions, both full time and part time, will be defunded in 2020-21, either partially or for the entire fiscal year,” she said.

Across-the-board cuts will impact all departments. A total of $1.7 million will be reduced from the Public Services budget, including five defunded positions, while $313,951 will be cut from the Costa Mesa Police Department, $472,732 from Fire & Rescue and $361,698 from the city manager’s discretionary fund.

The Parks & Community Services Department is trimming $476,462, and $744,653 will be taken from Development Services, among others.

Molina delivered a bit of good news during a June 9 initial budget hearing, namely that the gradual reopening of businesses and services in the past month will allow the city to adjust upward its anticipated sales tax revenue by $4.3 million.

The recent resumption of street-sweeping services, and the parking ticket fees typically associated with restrictions imposed during sweeping, should net another $1 million in fiscal year 2020-21.

Molina said an anticipated receipt of about $3 million in COVID-19 funding provided by federal, state and county agencies will be transferred to the city’s disaster fund in the current fiscal year and will eventually be used to help close the gap in 2020-21.

“In essence, this would reduce our general fund balance by 28%, from $53.3 million to a little bit under $39 million,” Molina said at that hearing.

The Finance Department estimates the coronavirus, and resultant decreases in sales tax and transient occupancy tax receipts, will have cost the city roughly $39.5 million by this time next year.

Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens praised city staff for accomplishing a nearly impossible feat.

“This is my fourth budget that I’ve voted on and oddly enough it’s the smoothest budget process because there was an incredible amount of communication, updates and information even under incredibly difficult circumstances,” he said. “This is a really good job.”

Councilman Allan Mansoor said he could not support the budget plan, as it failed to include cuts to the city’s chief of staff and council aide positions. He also suggested council members forfeit their own compensation, including their $900 monthly stipends.

“We’ve heard this council mention they want programs funded,” he said. “If we cut enough of our pay, that would go a long way toward that.”

Ultimately, the council approved the budget 5-2, with Mansoor and Councilwoman Sandy Genis opposed.