News - March 4, 2009

Menlo Park defers projects to reduce projected deficit

by Sean Howell

Menlo Park will defer several projects in order to narrow the projected deficit for the current fiscal year, but plans for sidewalks on Woodland Avenue will proceed as scheduled.

New sidewalks on Santa Cruz Avenue, a refurbished gymnasium floor at the Onetta Harris Community Center, an update to the city's housing element, and improvements to the library's Web site will be put aside for now, the council decided at its Feb. 24 meeting.

But the $220,000 allocated for sidewalks on Woodland — a project city staff had recommended to postpone — will stay in the budget, after Woodland Avenue residents pleaded for the council to fund it. Several of the street's residents said they feel it's a hazard for their children to walk along the shoulder of the busy thoroughfare to reach the bus stop.

While the other infrastructure projects would likely not have gotten under way before the fiscal year ends June 30, deferring the Woodland project would have meant a delay in planning, staff said.

Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson was reluctant to put off the projects, expressing concern over when they would get done.

"I'm very hesitant to defer the capital improvement projects," she said. "I don't think this is the time for city hall to stop investing in our assets, as a community."

She moved to cut only $282,000 of the $1.18 million in projects recommended by the staff, but failed to get a second.

Councilman Rich Cline maintained that "deferrals aren't cuts," saying he didn't want residents to get the impression that the projects wouldn't happen.

Lack of information

Councilmen Andy Cohen and John Boyle dissented in the 3-2 vote. Mr. Boyle refused to support approving a general fund deficit greater than the $164,000 in the plan outlined by city staff, saying he would only support proceeding with the plan for sidewalks on Woodland if the council could come up with $220,000 in cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Although he voted to defer the projects, Mayor Heyward Robinson said he didn't feel the council had sufficient information to decide which projects to cut, because city staff hadn't provided the council with any reasonable alternatives. Council members received a long list of projects in the city's budget the day of the meeting.

"I don't think I was given enough options here," Mr. Cohen said in explaining his vote. "I was ready to do some horse-trading. I am not satisfied with the answers from staff."

"It would have been nice to get this list earlier," said Councilman Rich Cline. "This is a critical part of the debate."

But with no regular meetings on the schedule until March 17, council members felt they had to act on the staff's recommendation.

City Manager Glen Rojas defended the projects he and his staff had recommended for deferral.

"This is a very responsible recommendation," Mr. Rojas said. "We offered up new projects that haven't yet been put into place."

After adopting the mid-year budget amendments, the city is now projecting a $384,000 deficit for the current fiscal year. Mr. Rojas is set to present a budget proposal for the 2009-2010 fiscal year (which starts July 1) at the council's next regular meeting March 17.


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