Almanac

News - June 25, 2014

Menlo council passes $72 million budget

by Sandy Brundage

Responding to pleas for mercy from the city's staff in the face of a deluge of planning projects, the Menlo Park City Council unanimously passed a budget for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year that allows the city to convert two temporary employee development-related positions to permanent ones.

The council noted that it hopes the move helps stem a high rate of turnover. During the June 17 meeting, Vice Mayor Cat Carlton said she was concerned to learn that the city was going through a temporary employee almost every other month. Menlo Park recently saw its sixth contract worker in the community development department leave to accept a permanent job elsewhere.

"That's a lot of effort and a lot of money and a lot of staff time training to do every other month," she said, and added that the larger question was whether using contract labor was saving Menlo Park money in the long run.

According to the city staff, the planning department is beleaguered by the number of residential and commercial projects in the works — and now potentially another, with Facebook's purchase of an additional 59 acres off Constitution Drive (which the company said it has no immediate plans to develop).

"We are completely unprepared to take that one," City Manager Alex McIntyre told the council, noting that he said as much to Facebook. While he was happy with Councilman Peter Ohtaki's suggestion to convert two of the seven temporary employee positions in the budget, Mr. McIntyre said, "three or four or five (would be) even better."

The council stuck with two for now, voting 4-0 (with Rich Cline absent and Ray Mueller calling in from China) to pass the budget, including the proposed conversion.

Mr. McIntyre told the Almanac on Wednesday that the conversion comes at no added cost to the city, as both permanent and short-term employees receive the same salaries and benefits.

"Where there might be a difference is in who we are able to attract into the position," he said, as people generally want permanent employment.

"Additionally, there is a misperception that somehow we cannot downsize permanent staff. That assumption is outright wrong. We can and we do," Mr. McIntyre said.

Since staffing levels depend on the amount of work available, the city sheds employees when work decreases, as Menlo Park did after losing a dispatch contract for San Carlos a couple years ago, he explained.

Other details

The $72.1 million budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, includes:

• $59.1 million for department operations, broken down into $33.7 million for personnel, $17 million for expenses and $8.4 million for services.

• $8.3 million for projects such as updating zoning in the M2 industrial district, completing the transition to an electronic payroll system for city employees, and creating more online services for items such as business license applications and renewals.

• $2.1 million for payments on the library and Measure T recreation bonds.

• $2.4 million in a transfer from the general fund into the capital improvement plan fund to support the start of approximately 30 new projects, including the remodel of city hall and the preliminary design of restrooms to be constructed at Jack Lyle and Willow Oaks parks.

For the general fund overall, which pays for most of the city's services as well as projects prioritized by the council, Menlo Park projects nearly $46.5 million in both revenues and expenditures, with revenue slightly outpacing expenses by $29,408.

The utility users tax for garbage, water, electrical and telecommunications services will stick around for another fiscal year. The council opted to leave the tax, an ever popular item of discussion, in place while continuing its rate at 1 percent, which was first approved in 2007. The tax delivers about $1.13 million in revenue annually.

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