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TONI NELSON, Capistrano Beach

City Manager Mike Killebrew should be commended for taking immediate action to address a $4 million budget shortfall expected for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. He found approximately $1.5 million in line-item expenditure cuts to at least partially address the devastating hit to the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue.

Unfortunately, almost half of those savings were wiped out by a whopping $734,000 increase in the city attorney budget, but it was an impressive effort and long overdue. He also tapped unrestricted funds and reserves, taking $1 million out of the reserve for unfunded employee pension liabilities.  Unfortunately, the challenge is far from over, because another $6 million hit to TOT is expected next year.

The elephant in the room is that Dana Point had a serious fiscal problem long before the emergence of COVID-19. In eight out of the past 10 years, we spent more than we took in, resulting in net operating deficits in every year except the last two. Even before the pandemic, Dana Point was expecting structural deficits (anticipated expenditures exceeding revenue).  Per the staff report, “When the current budget was adopted, a long-term financial plan through FY25 was also approved; in that plan was a $627,000 structural deficit projected to accumulate between FY22 and FY23.”

If council does not address the root causes, Dana Point’s fiscal problem will become a crisis. This year’s $4 million hole will be plugged, but what about the $6 million hole expected next year, and the continued shortfalls likely in the years after that? Next year’s $6 million shortfall will be too big to fill with designated reserves without violating council’s fiscal policy or raiding funds currently set aside for roads and deferred property maintenance. This problem is serious, and it can’t wait.

A few years ago, Councilmember Paul Wyatt did an analysis that concluded Dana Point was spending about 30% more than comparably sized cities in every single department. It’s time for this council to get serious about “right sizing” our city – not just balancing the budget, which has been a challenge for years, but cutting expenditures by at least 20% so that there’s a comfortable margin to replenish reserves and put the city on the road to financial health. We can no longer ignore sacred cows like the $1.7 million city attorney budget, the lavish city vehicle policy, or the $13 million police budget that the council majority rubber-stamps without question each year. We simply can’t afford to ignore potential savings in any area.

It’s time for our city council to do what every business owner in our city is doing right now—look at every line item and find creative ways to improve efficiency and cut expenditures to create a healthy and sustainable financial model. Behind every crisis is an opportunity. Let’s not miss this one.

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About The Author Dana Point Times

comments (2)

  • For the past four years this author has been pushing false narratives in order to pursue a political agenda. Throughout this piece she brings up items that have been discussed at length at past council meetings, like the police budget. Yet repeatedly over the years she, and her favorite councilmembers, and two others who speak at every council session, have waged a disinformation campaign comparing our police cost with the city of Laguna Hills? One city is at the coast and brings in millions of people a year, and the other one is a bedroom city with no crime and should not be compared to us.

    And you wonder about the cost? Logic would dictate that we have to compare ourselves to Newport, Laguna and San Clemente. Yet these four lone wolves repeatedly use the same tactics, compare our cost to a city that isn’t at all like us. We have been through this exercise with the council not once but THREE times in THREE years. It is like Groundhogs day with the same four people. But it fits their political agenda to confuse and hijack real city business.

    The author brings up false claims against our city attorney and our budgeted attorney cost. Yet, look close and the guy is doing a pretty good job. We are winning our lawsuits against the sober living homes, but we have not collected and booked all of those judgments yet (she fails too understand Municipal Accounting). Looks can be deceiving within our budget, and this author is well aware of that, feeding the public with a incomplete picture of the whole truth. It fits their political agenda. In fact, it was part and parcel of this author and the two councilmembers agenda against sober living homes that the city even directed the city attorney to file such lawsuits! So they complain for gain, and then don’t like that we are paying out hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars for their agenda to boot!

    The political agenda of these four is troubling, it is so bad that one councilmember filed a false misogyny claim against one of our city councilmembers! Think about that. A councilmember filed a blatantly false claim against another councilmember (see for yourself here We had to hire an outsider law firm, do numerous interviews, etc. and put someone’s life through the ringer. At a cost of upwards of $60,000-$100,000 not to mention the staff time and mis-guided attention lodged at this vs. real city business. This person tried to ruin someone’s life, it was false and cruel (some would say it was an attempted and false high tech lynching of an innocent man). But again, how much did it cost and why? These are things that the people want to know, especially when reviewing our budget, how much did that episode cost? And was it for a political agenda?

    Enough! These four individuals, and specifically this author, have used this newspaper repeatedly to target three councilmembers, again and again. Yet, lift the curtain; what do you find? A minority political agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with what is in the best interest of Dana Point taxpayers and citizens. The fact is, they have done and will continue to do harm to our city, sow division and at the end of the day their actions have cost the city thousands, if not millions, all for a political agenda of a few.

    If this author writes another piece, this newspaper should have a disclaimer warning ” The author has been known too exaggerate and not tell the complete truth and her opinion is for her political agenda”

  • Thank you for publishing Ms Nelson’s astute comments. We would be lucky if the city followed her guidance.

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