Commentary: Pact with employees will save Costa Mesa millions

During our two City Council meetings in September, the public will get to weigh in on the merits of a labor agreement that our general employees recently ratified. After that, the City Council will vote on whether to approve it.


It took more than a year of negotiations and plenty of give and take from both sides to get here, but we were able to strike a deal that makes sense for Costa Mesa taxpayers and our hard-working employees. It’s one of my proudest achievements as mayor.


The three-year deal includes a salary freeze, increased employee pension contributions and smaller caps on the banking of vacation and sick days. It also reduces starting pay for new employees by 10%.


In all, the deal saves the city $950,000 annually compared with the expired contract, while still providing our employees with excellent wages and benefits. The agreement goes a long way toward allowing the city to produce a sustainable budget by getting salaries — and especially some benefits — more in line with the private sector and the taxpayers’ ability to pay for it.


It’s important to note how well our new Civic Openness In Negotiations (COIN) ordinance, authored by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, worked during this process, bringing unprecedented transparency to what was traditionally a backroom deal with virtually no public input. You can read the agreement, a redlined version of the agreement, the fiscal analysis and each offer and counteroffer on the city’s website at


Another key part of the contract is that it allows the city to outsource its street sweeping operation, a move that will save us millions of dollars and allow us take advantage of the latest technology and trucks fueled by clean energy.


These savings are essential, as our pension costs continue to skyrocket and chew into our ability to properly maintain our infrastructure and otherwise invest in our community. In the early 2000s, the city used about 5% of its General Fund budget to pay for pensions. This fiscal year, the city will use 19% of its General Fund budget (or $21.5 million) to pay for pensions. Officials with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) tell us pension costs are going to continue to rise sharply in the coming years.


Can you imagine if pension costs remained flat at 5% of our General Fund over the years? In this year’s budget alone, we would have an additional $15.8 million to spend on new fire stations, libraries, roads, sidewalks and parks.


But that’s a fantasy so we need to save money wherever we can. I thank our general employees who — like our firefighters last year — stepped up and approved an agreement that puts the city on firmer fiscal ground. Our residents will visibly see the benefits in repaved streets and alleys, fixed sidewalks, a new library and refurnished fire stations and well-maintained parks and parkways.


It’s a beautiful thing.


JIM RIGHEIMER is the mayor of Costa Mesa.