Menlo Park may boost fees for some services


One of the dozens and dozens of city services offered by the city of Menlo Park allows people to drive over to the police department and have an officer install a car seat.

With the city eyeing a budget deficit, however, it finds itself unable to justify offering the service for free. It would start charging $40 for the service to Menlo Park residents, under a recommendation by city management that the City Council will review at its meeting on Tuesday, March 23.

That's one of a number of services the city is either starting to charge for, or increasing the price of, as it tries to wring money out of a parched budget in the midst of an economic recession. All told, tweaks to the fee schedule and fees for new services would bring in $200,500 per year, according to city management.

"We don't want to be unintentionally subsidizing things we don't want to subsidize," Finance Director Carol Augustine said, explaining the city's policy and acknowledging that department heads took a closer look at the schedule this year than it has in years past.

One set of fee increases almost certain to spur complaints from residents: double-digit percentage hikes to some part-time patrons of the child care center in the Civic Center. Under the new schedule, it will cost more per day to send a child to the program part-time than it would to enroll a child full-time, because it's more difficult to fill part-time slots, according to Ms. Augustine.

Parents of children enrolled in the after-school child care program could see rate increases of up to 39 percent. The city said it was recovering all its costs on the program last year, but that's no longer the case, according to Ms. Augustine.

At the childcare center in the Belle Haven neighborhood, the city will no longer provide a subsidy to families that earn more than $6,000 per month. It will increase the fee for children who take gymnastics classes by $1 per hour, a change that will bring in an astounding $60,000 because there are so many kids enrolled in the program.

The city will charge a fee to use a new patio area outside the Burgess recreation center, hoping people might want to use it for weddings or parties. Fees for sports teams to use city fields will also increase, to put them more in line with those of surrounding communities, according to Ms. Augustine.

Another change: Someone who appeals a decision by the planning department, to both the Planning Commission and the City Council, will foot the bill for the full cost of the second appeal. It's designed to discourage appeals when only one resident disagrees with a decision, as appeared to be the case in a recent issue involving a permit for Safeway.

Click here to see the fee schedule (PDF). The regular council meeting starts at 7 p.m.

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Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:28 am

In the mean time we waste $250k annually on the city manager.

Like this comment
Posted by Ro must go
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:50 am

City need to balance the budget, so where does it start? By endangering the safety of its tiniest residents. How many parents will mistakenly decide to do it themselves and spend the $40 on diapers or child care instead? Smart move, Menlo Park!

The other fees will drive up costs for kids all over town, whether they partake of city programs or merely are involved in activities that use public facilities. The rationale, I suppose, is that their parents are too busy with their kids to come to council meetings and protest. Disgusting.

Like this comment
Posted by Politicans Treating Us Like Idiots Again
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 21, 2010 at 3:07 pm

C'mon, $40 to install a car seat??? Why not just get it over with and discontinue the service rather than try to pretend that it's still offered while charging an outrageous fee that no one will pay.

Same with part-time child care - just stop offering it.

Typical political tricks - "Yea we offer all this great stuff, don't understand why nobody uses takes advantage (wink, wink!)".

Like this comment
Posted by Ro must go
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 21, 2010 at 4:19 pm

I have not used the carseat service myself, but have been at the police station buying overnight parking permits when young parents have come in requesting service. I have an MBA and I do understand cost accounting, but the fact is that this service is not costing MP anything right now. They take an officer who is otherwise idle and s/he spends a few minutes with the parent. I'd say that's a great use of our police officers' time!

So someone figured out that this happens maybe 100 times a year...hey, we could make some big bucks here, a few thousand dollars! Except hardly anyone is going to pay $40 to have a seat installed. Result: decreased safety for our young families, and not a whit of impact on the budget.

Let's stop nickel-and-diming the kids and do some real cost-cutting. For starters, maybe someone can explain why the overpaid city manager of a 30,000 person city needs two assistant managers.

Like this comment
Posted by Oh ouhleeze
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Why is it those with an MBA must find a way to mention it in every conversation they ever have?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I think that it is totally reasonable to increase fees for services but wonder about the wisdom of some of these decisions.

I agree with others that there should be no charge for public safety services. The car seat charge is laughable. What's next, a $100 charge for calling in a suspected burglary in progress? Lets raise the fee for a massage permit by $50 and leave the child seat fee at $0.

I also wonder why we are raising any fees at the Belle Haven community center in the middle of an economic downturn. Raising child care costs by as much as 3x on families making between $0 and $72k/year seems like a bad idea especially while the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent foreclosures in the same neighborhood.

It looks like the building department is getting the smallest fee increases. Why not increase the fees associated with new construction. Permit fees are a small part of the cost of a new home and can be amortized over a 30 year mortgage.

Like this comment
Posted by Bustin' Up
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Maybe we can get the Redwood City mountain lions to eat the City Council.

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Fees have to go up because salaries and bloated benefits are not going down. The only long term solution is to lower bloated union salaries and benefits. Not going to happen with this council.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Politicans Treating Us Like Idiots Again states:"C'mon, $40 to install a car seat???"

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District, paid for by your property taxes, offers this service for FREE.

And the Fire District is financial sound, has a prudent reserves and is refusing to agree to double digit salary increases.

Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Uh, Peter - "reserves" are basically excess property taxes that you're bankrolled. How about giving that excess back from whence it came - us taxpayers!
And what about those new fancy digs you have there on Middlefield? How can you justify that in these tough economic times???

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 26, 2010 at 6:53 am

Just wondering - good questions - start a new topic on that.

Like this comment
Posted by Bulldog
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 26, 2010 at 7:13 am

The assumption that any "idle" Officer can install a car seat is false.

Thanks to our litigation happy society, only a trained Officer can do so. And, that training sunsets and requires re-training. Any guesses on how long the car seat course takes? It's on the order of a week.

Perhaps it's time to indemnify the Government from liability for assisting parents with their car seats.

As it stands, if those parents are in a wreck and the lack of training helps meets the preponderance of the evidence standard, the City pays through the nose.

$40 doesn't begin to touch the potential cost.

Like this comment
Posted by Bulldog
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 26, 2010 at 8:21 am

More on the car seat topic:

Web Link

It may be BS, but that still meets the standard for this forum.

Like this comment
Posted by Ro must go
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2010 at 8:33 am

Carseat installation training that takes a week sounds like another example of gross incompetence in the public sector. Back before I went to grad school (for the sake of not offending some of you, I won't mention what degree I earned) I worked briefly for the local and federal governments, and my experience was that training generally took about 10x as many hours as necessary and was geared to people who operated at the third grade level.

That said, even if it did take a week, if 90% of the seats are indeed installed incorrectly, then it seems vital that checking carseats be maintained as a high priority, not only free but thoroughly publicized. What should our cops be spending their time doing, ensuring the safety of our youngest residents or busting people for jaywalking? Hey, I hate jaywalkers too, but let's get real.

I'm glad to hear the firefighters are still willing to install car seats and that the department is being run in a fiscally prudent manner. Sad to see how rare that is in the public sector.

Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Charging anyone for the appeals is immoral. Obviously, you can't take it. I feel like you should grow up - the people recommending this. Is this stopping freedom of speech? Hope the people wanting this are in the same predictament sometime.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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