News

Like it or not, costs for services are rising

 

By Sean Howell

Almanac Staff Writer

As Menlo Park residents struggle to cope with the effects of the economic recession, fees for basic and not-so-basic city services are on the rise, due in part to cost increases and budget shortfalls.

Beginning July 1, single-family homeowners will pay an additional $5 per month for each garbage can they own, thanks to increased pass-through costs from Republic Services (formerly Allied Waste), the company that handles the city's garbage collection services. Owners of multi-family and commercial buildings would see a 28 percent spike in collection fees.

Some homeowners have seen nearly a 70 percent increase since 2008.

And water rates are expected to more than double between now and 2015, as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission completes a major project to install new pipes bringing water to the Bay Area from the Hetch Hetchy water system. They have already increased 57 percent since 2006.

The City Council grappled with these and other service-related topics at its March 23 meeting, signing off on the garbage rate increases. A public hearing on water rates is scheduled for late April, with the council expected

to approve a five-year water rate plan in May.

Residents aren't likely to be pleased by the rate increases, and council members didn't particularly like being forced to approve the higher garbage rates. Republic Services cited several reasons for the hike, including higher labor and fuel costs, and the cost of complying with state air-quality law. While rates have risen, so have Republic's profits, which are fixed as a percentage of operating costs.

Recology (formerly Norcal Waste), the company that handles waste collection in San Francisco, will take over the city's waste collection contract at the end of the year.

Councilman Andy Cohen dissented in the garbage vote, arguing for a rate structure that would be slightly more lenient.

"I would only ask my fellow council members to keep in mind just how much of tonight's agenda has been spent on jacking up the costs to our residents," he said.

The water and garbage rate increases may also encourage people to conserve and recycle, though they're not designed for that purpose. Council members discussed the possibility of making the city's tiered water rates even more extreme, a tactic they hope would encourage heavy water users to cut back.

Other services

Fees for other city services are also on the rise, especially for child care and the use of sports fields. The city is increasing the rates in order to recover a greater percentage of its costs to provide such services, as it tries to claw its way out of a structural budget deficit.

In general, the new rates are in line with what other jurisdictions charge, according to city management.

After Little League and youth soccer representatives argued against the steep hikes at the meeting, the council unanimously voted for slightly smaller increases for the use of soccer and baseball/softball fields than city staff had recommended.

The council also approved new fee increases at a lower rate than planned to people enrolled in the Belle Haven child care program, which receives a significant subsidy from the state.

The council rejected a recommendation by the planning department to make a resident pay the full cost of a second appeal of a city decision. The recommendation was aimed at preventing cases like a recent one when a woman twice appealed a decision to award a permit to Safeway, so that she could air mostly unrelated grievances to the City Council.

A majority of council members said they didn't want to restrict residents' ability to have a hearing before them, while Councilman John Boyle argued that the city should try to discourage frivolous appeals.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 31, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Why are all these fees going up MUCH FASTER than the rate of inflation?????
70 percent since 2008????????????????????
Has any Menlo Park city employee taken an actual paycut?
I don't mean forgoing a scheduled increase, I mean an actual reduction in income.
Unemployment is over 10%.
How many city employees have been laid off in the past two years?
I can almost guarrantee that assuming any city employee has been laid off, 10% of the city staff has not been cut.
Many of those still working have been forced to take 10% to 20% cuts in salary to keep their jobs.
Maybe we are just paying too much for city employees and their lucrative pensions.
How many city employees have total compensation packages over $125,000 per year?
I bet close to 50%.
Being a government employee is about the best gig around other than being a politician.
Time for people to wake up.


Like this comment
Posted by Dawn
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 31, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Try to remember your feelings about city employees when the roller coaster ride is going the other way. They never stand to make as much as private sector in an upswing - and in exchange, they get more job security in a downturn. They are the scapegoat of the day right now, but I'm sure you weren't crying for them during the dotcom heyday.


Like this comment
Posted by Lee Weaver
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm

The "dotcom heyday" was a windfall for a very few people 10 years ago. At this point it is about as relevant to the discussion as the gold rush of 1849. The reality is that the public sector is way overpaid, not just in salary but even more so in beefits. Let's start cutting the wages back until public employees actually start leaving their jobs- then fill those openings with the 15%+ unemployed/underemployed.

The public employees are supposed to work for us, not the other way around.


Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Lee,

I agree. It would be nice if we could cut those wages.


Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 2, 2010 at 4:05 pm

If most of the Council was for a smaller increase why did they vote for it.

The only person that I'd vote for again is Andy Cohen!! I even endorsed Kelly Fergusson (sp?) last time, but she is too wishy-washy!

As for the smoking, think Kline, Robinson and Boyce probably smoke anyway.

Cohen is the only one who really c ares about the people he represents!


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:22 am

John, here are the numbers.

The 2008 Salary Statistics show the following salary levels and percentage of total employees for full time employees in Menlo Park

27 Paid more than $100,000 16%
37 paid more than $90,000 22%
53 Paid more than $80,000 32%
70 Paid more than $70,000 42%
102 Paid more than $60,000 61%
150 Paid more than $50,000 90%

It's no wonder we have reduced services, we pay too much to too many. In addition they will receive 81% of that pay as a pension for LIFE after the age of 55........


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

Don't think for a moment that the City's salary structure and benefits will change one bit unless the citizens rise up en masse.

Sadly, I don't think that will happen as the citizens are all frogs in a pot of water that is very slowly being heated up - they will be taxed to death before they allow themselves to be outraged.


Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm

You tell em Roy. Wealthy insider VCs have such a real view of the world these days. I wonder if I will do my union rant from the Menlo Park home today? Not in the mood, maybe I will fly to my Hawaii home and send out my anti-union documents.

Peter and Roy, common men looking for common folks.


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Truth, you sound upset with the facts. Here's what I KNOW, I have started 5 companies and sit on the boards of more than 8 others. We do not have companies with these salary structures ANYWHERE. Private industry has to balance it's books, and quite frankly cities don't. I would imagine I have more knowledge of salary structures than you by virtue of the number of companies I see. But please, enlighten us with your in depth understanding of the issue. what companies do you know with defined pension programs, retirement at 55 and salaries like these....do tell us.

Your snide comment about wealth would be almost amusing if you didn't always hide behind a pseudonym. I am very proud of everything I've done to create jobs. I did so while working hard throughout my life. What is it you've contributed to.....?

Regards
Roy


Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 5, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Roy,

She doesn't contribute. She tears down. Ignore her.

I like what you have to say. Something needs to be done to stop this runaway train.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 5, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Roy,

So how goes the private hockey games at Scott's estate these days?

And how's the pony-tailed one who drove Sun straight into the ditch but walked away a multi-millionaire doing these days?

Ah, the captains of industry are gonna show us commoners how things should be done and we should just nod our head in agreement like good little yes-men.

But shouldn't you be out touting the "millions" of jobs Meg Whitman supposedly created?


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:49 am

Just Wondering

I always love the snide comments coming from you anonymous posters.

1. Never played hockey, sorry. While I grew up in Wisconsin I was a speed skater and soccer player. You'll have to ask someone else about playing hockey. (Hockey Note: University of Wisconsin (my alma mater) is in the NCAA Final Four in Hockey AGAIN this week! Go Badgers)

2. I left Sun prior to Jonathon joining the company, in fact I only met him once. So again, you'll have to ask someone else how he is (as if you cared). My 11 years there were UNBELIEVABLE. When I left we had over 30,000 employees, creating an environment that made that many new jobs is exciting and rewarding. Your cowardly anonymity precludes us from knowing how you helped Menlo Park, California, America grow to be a better place....or not.

In the future if you want to insult me, just call me on the phone and identify yourself. I'd be more than happy to discuss ANY subject with you. The one I am most passionate about is making Menlo Park a great place to live and making sure that it can financially sustain that excellence for my children.......Based on the lack of facts/comment in your posting about anything pertinent to Menlo Park, we'll assume you don't care....

Roy Thiele-Sardina


Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm

That's funny Roy, because I have been to many public meetings, many workshops et al and not once have I seen you or heard you contribute to "making Menlo Park a great place..." You find yourself with money and time and an ideology that might squeeze through a Dem population and you want to take advantage. Don't try to sell us on your great civic giving, money to schools is money not civic.

And trust me, there is nothing about venture capital that is about creating jobs, it is about creating wealth. Ask any founder of a company torn apart by vulture capitalists. You have a history of funding the right, voting for the right and you are now exercising your right as a wealthy Republican to take on the blue collar worker.

That is courage.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Truth,

Excellent point. And doing a search on The Almanac, Roy's name fails to come up until February of this year when Duboc/Winkler evidently roped this guy into acting as the front man for this initiative.

I guess if you do them good, Roy, they'll back you in the next election so that you can possibly join your commrade Boyle on the city council and regal all of us commoners with your infinite VC-based wisdom, eh (while cutting people and services that don't serve the super-rich)?


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Truth and Just Wondering

Again with the baseless anonymous insults.

Please enlighten the readers with your positive additions to Menlo Park, and if you insist on insulting someone please put your name on it….your cowardice is ugly and trite.

So please can we return to the original subject? Fees for city services are being increased and services decreased because the city is spending MORE and MORE of it’s budget on staff costs. And this new budget from the city shows how high the cost of benefits has become. It’s simply not sustainable. Look at the numbers from the city.

Web Link

Roy Thiele-Sardina


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Roy,
Unfortunately Truth and Just Wondering are a constant anonymous presence on the Town Forum. They never contribute an opinion on the substance and always attack posters like you and me who use our real names. Success for them is not what they might have accomplished but what they envy in others. Their actual contributions to our communities is unknowable but probably non-existent.

They are best and properly ignored although the temptation to respond is often great.

Peter

This posting will probably evoke blistering attacks from both - but without substance or value.


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Peter

Thanks for the response.

Those two have deep psychological issues with VC's. Clearly they've been wronged by one. but do they treat every waiter that way because one guy served them poorly, every teacher that way for a bad day in class.....??? gotta wonder?

The cowardly insults show a very passive aggressive pattern. Must be a blast to be their family members.

Roy


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Roy -
A couple quibbles with the numbers you posted above.
You say that 90% of employees (150 employees) made over $50,000 in 2008. So using these numbers, that means that Menlo Park had a total of 167 employees. Yet in the link to the city budget that you provided later Web Link the number of employees in the city budget (2009 - 2010) shows to be 246 (slide #43). Why the discrepancy with your numbers? BTW - this total of 246 employees is down about 6% (15 employees) from the high of 261 employees in 2003 (slide 45).
Later you write:
"Fees for city services are being increased and services decreased because the city is spending MORE and MORE of it’s budget on staff costs."
In fact most of the fee increases mentioned in the article above are not for services provided by the city staff but for contract services: garbage pickup, water service, child care. Cutting staff or reducing their salaries would do nothing to reduce the costs for these contract services, which are simply passed along to the homeowner (or parent in the case of childcare).
Also, the city is not spending MORE and MORE of its budget on staff. Certainly, wages have basically been flat for the past 7 years (Slide 39). In fact, it looks like they may have even declined slightly in the past year, perhaps due to the fact that 6% of staff vacancies have not been filled (slide 42). What has gone up somewhat is fringe benefits - though it's hard to tell how much is due to increased retirement benefits and how much is increased medical benefits, which we know have been going up for everyone at ~10%/year.
Finally, you write:
"And this new budget from the city shows how high the cost of benefits has become. It’s simply not sustainable. Look at the numbers from the city."
I did look at the numbers and I'm not nearly as concerned as you appear to be. Look at slide #55 and you can see city expenditures vs revenues for the past 10 years. Sure enough, for the past year, expenditures have exceeded revenues by a small amount. And if this continues for the next several years, I might become concerned. But I realize that we're just coming out of a major recession and revenues,which have fallen, will start rising again and the imbalance will go away. Same imbalance happened in 2005 and things recovered nicely the following year.
No need to panic - looks to me like are city officials are handling things quite responsibly. I see no need to start reducing staff and staff benefits - especially since they don't appear out of control in any way.
As a businessman, you must appreciate that companies that respond to a down economy by layoffs and salary cuts invariably perform worse when the economy turns around because their best people have gotten the message and left and the morale of those that remain is in the toilet. Companies who actually value their people, in good times and bad, tend to perform best in the long run. The same should apply to people in government.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Roy -
BTW - I grew up in Wisconsin too, though I never played sports while at UW. I did get my exercise running from the Natatorium out to Picnic Point and back. During the middle of winter I'd do my running at the old Red Gym, up on the track above the third floor basketball courts. It was great to be doing laps and look down to watch the games being played below.
Would have been better if I'd been able to swim at pool in the basement back in the day when it was Men Only and they swam in the nude. One day, a few years before I started at Madison, the girls decided that this wasn't fair and invaded the pool, sans suits, and swam with the guys. The next day, the pool was declared coed, suits required.
Such is progress.


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Steve

Thanks for the response, you bring up some great points, I’ve answered all of your questions below.

The city actually employees MANY more than the 246 in the presentation, but these also include the police (85) and the temp workers (there are a total of 532 employees that were paid last year). The 166 I counted are the ones the city identified as having worked the full year. Clearly some are part-time positions since they were paid $15,000-$24,000 (those are the 16 that earn less than the $50K range). I am attaching a link to the entire data set with the statistics at the top. The drop in employees in 2004 was when the last council made the operation of the pool an outside contract rather than a city run service.

Web Link

The fees charged for every community service have increased (recreation, field use for sports teams, gym use for sports teams, etc.) The ones that were listed in the article are the franchise fees the council has to declare and vote on. If you are a parent in MPK you are paying more for your family to use the services here. In addition fees for building, business licenses, etc have also increased.

Slide #39 shows the UPWARD trend in fringe benefits (retirement pensions, and health benefits) This does not account for the looming extra payments that the city will have to make for the pension shortfall from CalPERS. The salaries are increasing at the contract rate. The “Fringe Benefits” increase the TOTAL cost of employment, with as you noted FEWER employees that in 2002, If you overlaid the employment graph on the Personnel graph it’s not pretty.

Slide #53 shows the “transfer out” of an expense from the general fund of $2.0M. midyear the council realized they had a $3.4 million deficit. So they used money from another capital fund to pay for infrastructure that would have come out of the general fund. That MASKS a deficit. They also chose to defer maintenance (thereby lowering the budget) and transfer some maintanace costs to another reserve fund. In all they made up $2.4 of the $3.4 deficit. so the deficit you see in #55 would have been $2.4 million more without the accounting changes. We didn’t increase revenue to cover that, we changed where it was paid for so it does NOT show in the general fund deficit.

The real long term concern is un-funded pension and healthcare obligations slides #47-48 show those costs. They will budget it as a payroll charge. That $10.4 they put into the trust was to cover the increased benefits from the pension increase in 2006-2007. With CalPERS returning less than they have historically. The city will be required to make up the pension “imbalance”. Long term this is NOT pretty. The other thing to remember is that more and more of our employees will be retiring and we promised them 2.7% per year of service (81% of salary for 30 years of employment)…..it is NOT cheap.

Web Link

Roy Thiele-Sardiña

P.S. I actually swam at Wisconsin and the red gym pool was TINY…..I loved the new one they built for us. I used to workout at the red gym off season since I lived in Ogg Hall (southeast dorms) and it was closer. They built the Kohl Center (Basketball Arena) in the old mud football field across the street from Ogg & Sellery. What years were you there? (BSECE & BSCS ’82) There is an alumni event in SF next week.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering Again
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2010 at 8:41 pm

"Unfortunately Truth and Just Wondering are a constant anonymous presence on the Town Forum."

Funny, but I'd say the same thing about you, oh Peter The Great One!

PS: How's that Atherton scandal thing going there, pal??? You really solved that problem!


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Scott

Here is the project funding deficit from the general fund for the next ten years ~$2.0M per year from the last budget meeting.

Web Link

and here is the whole document:

Web Link

Thanks
Roy


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

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