And since we are talking about state employee union benefits here, the California Democratic Party would have to be seriously contemplating political suicide to go that route. Union support being their most reliable and valuable asset. Which leaves Redevelopment Agencies somewhere under the bus. The Democratically controlled state legislature really doesn't have much of a choice. Getting rid of the CRA means union pensions can be protected. At least for a while. There really is no other choice for them but to throw the whole CRA apparatus to the wolves.
What this means for local city governments is that billions of dollars in property tax money is about to be ripped from their control. California no longer has the kind of ready cash needed to allow elected officials to float millions of dollars for developers to build strip malls, movie theaters and mixed use condominium complexes. Hard times have hit the Golden State, and that level of financial luxury no longer exists. Welfare for developers might have been a fine and dandy way of generating political power for elected officials in the past, but there just isn't that kind of spare cash around anymore. Pols are just going to have to find another way to grease the wheels.
So how are "full service" city governments going to survive in a state where the good times have decidedly rolled on? Here in Sierra Madre we have a Police Department that seems to add new members monthly, a generously staffed and growing City Hall, paramedics, and a Fire Department that can somehow keep replacing perfectly serviceable older equipment with the shiniest new trucks in the SGV.
But with state CRA funding going away, and taxes and fees now hitting the saturation point in town, how much longer can such an old school business model continue in Sierra Madre? With the Police Department up for yet another raise and increased retirement, City employee pensions and benefits increasing yearly, the General Fund flat-lining, local business people in a state of open revolt over higher fee and rate schedules, tens of millions of dollars in old bonds demanding attention and new bond debt on the way, an ongoing addiction to consultants, plus increasingly obstreperous taxpayers here highly unlikely to vote themselves yet another tax hike any time soon, the answer is about two years before we go into the red.
Or at least that is the time frame Mayor Mosca put out to his political constituency Monday night. Apparently it is after the CRA money is gone that things get really interesting.
In Costa Mesa those days are apparently over now. And in a sign that private sector style financial solutions and business models are finally starting to make headway in the public sector as well, they are now initiating drastic changes. Here is how a website called Voice of OC.org describes what could become the wave of the future for many challenged California cities:
Costa Mesa Becomes Ground Zero in Ideological Budget Battle - While many jurisdictions face tight budgets this year, Costa Mesa officials on Tuesday night drew an ideological line in the sand, rarely seen at the local level, voting 4-1 to study privatizing nearly half the city's employees.
On the potential chopping block is a vast menu of city services: fire protection, jail services, street sweeping, IT services, building inspections, payroll services, animal control and maintenance for a slew of services like parks, streets, medians and vehicles.
In addition to the study, the council action authorized the city to issue hundreds of layoffs notices to employees - - something city officials say state law requires them to do even when they are just considering a privatization plan.
The Orange County Register reports the story this way:
Costa Mesa may outsource half of its services - The Costa Mesa City Council is considering outsourcing roughly half of the city's government functions.
All city employees were notified Friday afternoon that the City Council had added an item to the agenda for its meeting Tuesday: layoff notices for employees providing 18 city services as a proposed budget-cutting measure. Those services include maintenance, information technology, communications, payroll, firefighting, jail administration, animal control, building inspection, and printing.
Aside from the fire department, the two city departments that would be hit the hardest are the Public Services Department, which handles maintenance and engineering, and the Administration Services Department, which would be gutted.
Our City Hall has seen the numbers and they know exactly where they are taking them. This was the underlying message from Monday night's "State of the City" meeting. While all that Sacramento bashing might have been politically correct (they're broke after all, so what difference does it make?), traditional city governments are now fighting for their survival. Including ours.
The choices are both stark and clear. Do we continue to employ people with responsibilities like keeping seniors properly entertained, or do we fix the pipes? Do we continue to fund a police department that requires three patrol cars to issue a speeding ticket, or do we do something about the sewers? Do we need to pay for someone to snoop around residents' property looking for unauthorized tool sheds, or do we repair our most challenging streets?
When City Hall fights to raise fees and access costs, works behind the scenes to enable the sale of new bonds (which is what the water rate increase was actually all about), or lobbies to increase UUT rates, then it is time for people to recognize what is really going on. Our City Government is fighting to maintain what for them is a pretty good way of life. And they know the numbers are now working against them.
The question for us as tax and rate payers is can we afford to sustain that way of life for much longer. And even if we can, is it really worth it for us to do so? Are we really getting that much in return? Wouldn't we just be better off out-sourcing City Hall and saving ourselves a bunch of money?
Or do we just continue doing what has always been done because we don't know any better? Or because we're being told this is how it has to be? Once again California's economic straits could prove to be a game changer.