"It is, primarily, a 'status quo' budget that, while proposing a few modest investments, basically maintains services and costs at current levels until we can be more confident that the economic upturn seemingly underway, particularly in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, has staying power," City Manager Alex McIntyre wrote in his report.
To that end, the budget for next fiscal year proposes some basic service restorations, including reopening the public library on holiday weekends.
The report also asks the council to consider adding a fifth Redflex red-light camera, to be installed at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street. The city's other cameras are at the intersections of El Camino Real with Glenwood Avenue and Ravenswood Avenue, and Bayfront Expressway at Willow Road. But while Menlo Park may expand its red-light camera arsenal, other local cities are canceling their programs. Redwood City, Hayward and San Carlos have stopped using the cameras.
The report states that for the first four months of 2013, Menlo Park has received an average of 12 new development applications each month, "the highest level of activity seen in several decades." In addition to other projects, such as Facebook's Constitution Drive campus starting construction, and related tasks such as inspection fees, all that planning and public works activity is driving an additional $905,000 into the city's coffers, compared to last year.
The city plans to use two to three contract employees to accommodate the increased demand on the planning department, at an estimated cost of $300,000, as well as contractors in public works for $108,000 — a solution described as "imperfect" by Mr. McIntyre, who had urged the council earlier this year to hire staff instead. The report states that he may ask the council to reconsider should the contractors' work fall short or activity levels stay high.
Menlo Park will look at outsourcing disaster preparedness to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, and sharing services with Redwood City and East Palo Alto, according to the report.
While the economy appears to be improving, the city manager's analysis also notes some dark clouds on the horizon, in particular, the expected significant increase in employee retirement costs. CalPERS, the state's retirement system, has warned participating jurisdictions of upcoming changes; the city's budget report suggests that the city start saving now for increases that could be as much as double that projected over seven years. Mr. McIntyre recommended reserving the city's anticipated $202,508 general fund surplus to help cover those costs.
Still, Mr. McIntyre would like to see city employees get raises, since they haven't seen a cost-of-living increase in five years.
"There is evidence of several high-profile departures recently from our City for positions with other agencies at higher rates of compensation and it is proving more difficult to recruit quality talent to Menlo Park in our current compensation program," Mr. McIntyre wrote.
The high-profile departures have included the city clerk and the finance director in the past three months.
Go to tinyurl.com/mekpo7g to review the report. The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on June 4.