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Daily Pilot

Smith: How would you spend Costa Mesa's surplus?

By Steve Smith

4:26 PM PST, January 24, 2013

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In Washington, D.C., reducing the massive U.S. deficit is now the top priority, as it should be.

While the U.S. drowns in red ink, Costa Mesa has a challenge every city would love to have. Today, Costa Mesa has a budget surplus of $2.5 million.

The challenge is that there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas on what should be done with the money. Ask a city employee and you will get one response. Ask an out-of-work construction worker and you will get another.

Then there are Facebook friends, who often have valuable input on issues. A few days ago, I posed this question to them: "The city of Costa Mesa recently announced a budget surplus of $2.5 million, a nice sum for a town this size. If your city had a significant surplus, what would you advise them to do with the money?"

Costa Mesa resident Jon Zich replied first with, "Save it for the year that they don't ... no-brainer."

Ingrid Anderson, a former Costa Mesa resident and former colleague, suggested a "tax refund to the citizens. I know a few Costa Mesa peeps that could use that."

Chase Rogers, another former colleague who now lives in Florida, wrote, "feed the ducks." I'm not sure what Rogers means, unless he was talking about the professional hockey team, in which case, it would be "feed the Ducks," but I don't think those guys need any food money.

Patt Jordan, an exceptional account manager with whom I worked for several years, thought the money should go toward "fine arts programs in the schools." Jordan may not get her wish, but she brings up an important point: The city and the schools can work far more closely than they have. It's time for the City Council and the school board to start a regular dialogue to determine mutual areas of interest and collaboration to help make the city even better.

Dear family friend and Costa Mesa resident Kathy McIsaac-Miller suggested some support for the less fortunate by noting that, "Fullerton's looking into property to house the mentally ill and homeless...." Her comment reminded me that the recommendations of the city's Homeless Task Force have been sitting on a shelf since they were proposed months ago.

Long Beach resident and cyclist Mike Wapner, one of the most talented copy writers I know, wrote that, "Next door in Newport Beach, a nice sum of $300,000 or so has been set aside to help promote public awareness of cyclists and bicycle safety and improve road conditions for riders. Maybe the two cities could get together in a joint effort with a portion of the funds."

I like this idea, particularly improving road conditions for cyclists. Anyone who has tried to ride a bike on Harbor Boulevard between the San Diego (405) Freeway and Newport Boulevard knows that unless one rides on the sidewalk, it is extremely dangerous, save for the short stretch of bike path north of Wilson Street.

Former college buddy and talented artist Gary Nisbet was adamant about using the money for a "Teacher pay raise! That and public art. Not the whole [$]2.5 [million] but at least 1%. We're all starving!"

And last by not least is Leslie Young, a Los Angeles resident who recommended that the surplus be used to "pay to have some enrichment programs for the schools there!"

Me? I'd like to see a hybrid of uses. Some of the money should go to infrastructure improvements, which always seem to cost more when they're delayed, and some of it should be used, as Zich believes, for the reserve fund.

Whatever the council chooses to do, they'd better hurry before Washington decides it needs it more.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.