News - March 18, 2009

Mayor says city will consider raising tax

by Sean Howell

Taxing residents might be the best way to balance Menlo Park's budget, Mayor Heyward Robinson said in his March 10 "state of the city" address.

The city could raise utility tax rates for between one and three years, he said, while it waits for tax income from the Rosewood Hotel and other projects to fill the gap between expenses and revenues.

Anticipating a backlash from those who have pushed for city staffers to bear at least some of the burden for the economic downturn, Mr. Robinson told residents not to get caught up in short-sighted criticism by the council's detractors, and not to lose sight of what's best for the city in the long run.

"It's easy to be the outsider who questions or criticizes every decision made," Mr. Robinson said. "We too often find that the solution that pleases everyone in the short term, satisfies no one in the long run."

He urged resident to consider "all interests," "not just the voices of naysayers and critics."

"Let's not allow our fear of the current uncertain times to be a substitute for action," he said.

Turning to city staffers assembled in the council chambers, Mr. Robinson said, "I want to make it clear that significant reductions in staff are our last option" in the council's attempt to balance the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Lee Duboc, a former council member who has repeatedly pushed for the city to scale back benefits to staffers, shot back in a post on her blog.

"As this unabashed naysayer and critic sees it, our Mayor's vision of the future is comforting unless you happen to be a taxpayer," she wrote, arguing that it isn't fair to expect residents who are suffering from the economic crisis to help the city balance its books.

It is unclear whether a majority of council members would approve a steep tax hike. Councilman John Boyle has been a frequent critic of the tax, and Councilman Rich Cline has said that the city has to look at other options in trying to work its way out of a deficit.

"We can't just put (the city's deficit) on the backs of the community," in the form of a utility tax hike or a cut in services, Mr. Cline said at a Feb. 24 meeting.

The city enacted a two-tiered utility users tax in April 2007 — 3.5 percent on utilities (water, gas and electric bills), and 2.5 percent on communications (telephone, television and Internet bills) — in order to narrow what the city maintains is a long-term deficit. Council members voted to lower the rates to their current 1 percent level that June, after the city realized that revenues were coming in higher than expected.

For a condensed version of Mr. Robinson's speech, see Page 23.


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 18, 2009 at 8:07 am

I was a member of the Budget Advisory Committee ("BAC"). The stated purpose was to prioritize our services and to explore ways of raising revenue to fund our services. In actuality it was campaign to garner public acceptance of the UUT. Audrey Seymour led the Committee. Every time the committee sought ways to increase the revenue base by bringing in new business she steered the meeting back to the UUT. This was shameful on the part of the City because it expressed no interest in broadening the tax base. It only wanted to increase tax rates on its residents. I was the only person on the BAC who publicy spoke against the UUT. This was because the UUT was promoted by City staff is being needed to address the budget shortfall; but they would not and could not offer any proof there was going to be a shortfall.

Well as it turns out there was no budget shortfall that year. City staff knew we were going to have a budget surplus but purposely withheld that in hopes that the UUT would pass. Only after after the Deception Election was it was announced that we had a surplus. But that was too late. The Ciy staff had hoodwinked the public and the UUT was passed.

So why did the City want the UUT. Well that is easy. It was to pay for the egregious pay raises, early retirements and augmented benefits for the SEIU employees that are way out of line with the private sector.

We should say no to Heyward Robinson and insist that he return to the bargaining table to negotiate new contacts with the city employees, or start laying off employees. I have had enough with that union sycophant and so should you.

I urge every resident to contact Mr. Robinson and tell him we had enough and that the City Council should start working for the residents instead of the SEIU. His e-mail address is Alternatively you can call him on his cell phone at (650) 208-1512.

Posted by angela, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 18, 2009 at 8:48 am

[Posts removed due to excessive posts by same person]

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