Almanac

News - April 21, 2010

Facing $1.3 million deficit, Menlo Park looks for cuts, fee hikes

by Sean Howell

Menlo Park is facing a $1.3 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and cuts to city services could be on the way.

With employee expenses rising, and with city revenue taking longer than expected to bounce back to its pre-recession level, the city is eyeing service cuts as it tries to reduce the deficit, including severe cuts in the Belle Haven neighborhood. The entire regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 20, will be given over to a discussion of the budget, beginning at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

The city's preliminary budget accounts for $1.2 million in expense cuts and revenue boosts the city has already been making over the past several months, anticipating a deficit. They include fee hikes for city services, delayed salary increases for city workers, and the elimination of several vacant staff positions, or delayed hiring to fill those positions.

City management is recommending $700,000 in additional cuts. Among the recommendations: opening the Onetta Harris Community Center at noon instead of 8 a.m. daily, eliminating one police officer and one librarian position, reducing park maintenance, cutting hours at the Belle Haven library and senior center, and eliminating a teacher position at the Belle Haven child development center.

The council will discuss the recommendations at the meeting, and will also consider several other budgeting strategies. Among those is the possibility of putting two revenue-generating measures on the November ballot: increasing the tax paid by hotel guests (a 1 percent hike would generate $250,000), and re-instituting the utility tax (a 1 percent across-the-board tax would generate $1.2 million).

The council could also choose to cut a program that allocates about $100,000 annually to community organizations, or to draw from the city's substantial reserve fund.

City Manager Glen Rojas will make his recommendations on the final budget in early June.

The city is projecting that revenue will grow to $37.6 million — $1.1 million over what it expects in the current fiscal year, but still $900,000 below revenue in fiscal year 2007-08. Anticipating an early recovery from the recession, the city has said that it initially over-estimated revenue by $1.3 million in the current fiscal year.

The city expects expenses to rise by $1.3 million, to $38.9 million, mostly due to significant wage and benefit hikes to police officers and sergeants.

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