Council's outsourcing a hot campaign issue
Original post made by Kathleen Liston on Oct 24, 2006
Council candidates Heyward Robinson, Vince Bressler and Rich Cline are using two outsourcing efforts, Burgess Pool and child care, as a linchpin in their campaign, inaccurately claiming the process was not transparent and attacking the majority council members, who were taking responsible actions as stewards of our public funds.
The budget, for example, shows that Menlo Park's city-run gymnastic program is profitable, demonstrating a successful public recreation program. On the other hand, the city's child care and aquatics programs are heavily subsidized.
Neighboring cities do not use local taxes to subsidize child care and other city-run aquatic programs are also operated at a loss. This indicates it is wise for the council to consider alternatives to cut non-essential expenses. Many city services are outsourced, such as soccer, tennis, and music programs, and many municipalities outsource services.
The outsourcing of the pool was reviewed in public council meetings and commissions where Heyward Robinson voiced support for the pool proposal and city staff reports recommended the pool proposal.
Yet, Mr. Robinson, who is endorsed by the SEIU, which represents most city employees and has stated they will not support any "privatization" (Almanac, April 26), changed his mind and now voices opposition to the outsourcing.
Menlo Park's city staff is excellent and the debate on outsourcing should not be interpreted as a question of their capability or a vote against the SEIU. The SEIU serves its members well as evidenced by the quality of service our citizens receive and the quality of the information they produce in staff reports and budgets.
Nonetheless, Menlo Park faces a $1.8 million budget shortfall and exploring options in a constructive and open forum is critical to maintaining our current city staff and meeting the long-term needs of Menlo Park citizens. John Boyle, Lee Duboc and Mickie Winkler represent a slate of candidates willing to explore and sometimes make tough choices that may require short-term change, but long-term benefit to citizens and staff.
on Oct 30, 2006 at 12:07 pm
1. The city never ran the new aquatics center, so there are no numbers to compare. Would the pool need to be "heavily subsidized" if the city charged the same fees that Tim Sheeper charges?
2. How much are taxpayers spending to subsidize developers using the Planning Dept.? A planning dept. is one of the few city departments that is legally entitled to recover all its costs from user fees. Any city struggling with a deficit should look to its cost-recovery from permits, plan checks, inspections, etc.
on Oct 30, 2006 at 3:36 pm
The real issue is not that Duboc, Boyle, and Winkler are "willing" to explore privatization, the real issue is that they seem ideologically commited to it even when it makes no financial sense to do so. And there is some question of their integrity in citing financial data and other facts.
For a long time, Duboc and Winkler cited "phantom savings" to justify privatizing the child care service. Web Link
"After months of trying to get firm numbers from Menlo Park city officials, the Almanac finally found out last week that the true cost to operate the city's child care programs is $1.14 million, just $4,500 more than income received from tuition.
This is a shocking disclosure, given that the City Council majority of Nicholas Jellins, Mickie Winkler and Lee Duboc have repeatedly claimed that the programs cost the city $444,000 more than they take in. As a result, the trio has pressed ahead with a request for proposals from private firms to operate the programs based on the premise that they are operating at a loss of nearly half a million dollars a year."
Later it was found out officially that potential savings would be only $73k.
Based on the meager savings, the popularity and quality of the city-run service, eight of nine citizens on the child care task force recommended staying with city run program. The only exception: John Boyle.
When the lone private bidder dropped out. Boyle, Winkler, and Duboc blamed it on a vast union conspiracy, and in an email, Winkler promised to revisit the subject, if re-elected. She also again mis-stated the costs savings, putting it back at $440k, and now began mis-quoting a staff report alleging that it said bidders failed to bid for fear that the "union would tarnish their reputation in other communities". In fact the staff report did not say that, and did not even mention the union as was confirmed in a Palo Alto Daily Article.
Boyle, Duboc, and Winkler all repeated and re-used the misquoted staff report in one way or another to blame their privatization failure on a vast union conspiracy rather than poor up-front analysis they did to learn the potential costs savings.
This is just one example. Few people remember that the failed Bayfront Park golf course was another failed privatization effort justified by cost savings. The errors made in that effort make the child care effort look diligent.
I'm sad to say there has been nothing impressive about Duboc, Winkler, and now Boyle.
on Oct 31, 2006 at 8:12 am
WhereHaveAllTheDollarsGone has an excellent point regarding the pool. Besides the lack of competitive bids (not even one!) or due diligence regarding the shifting estimates of costs, the privatization deal totally overlooked the upside potential of profit sharing. With the array of programs offered (I doubt the city would have created this, by the way), and the rates charged, there is no doubt in my mind that the private operator will profit to the exclusion of the residents who continue to pay taxes on their facility that is provided rent-free to a for=profit enterprise. A responsible steward of the public's asset would have negotiated the opportunity to share in the profits to help cover the large indirect costs and provide relief to residents.
The city is not at all recovering the costs of the planning department. This is a no brainer to fix.