News


Service cuts ahead as city works to narrow deficit

 

Click on image to enlarge graph.

By Sean Howell

Almanac Staff Writer

To date, the city of Menlo Park's paddle around the whirlpool of the global economic recession has been fairly graceful. Though tax receipts have sloughed since the fall of 2008, residents haven't seen much of a change in services, and the city hasn't been forced to dive, Scrooge McDuck-like, into its giant pile of general fund reserves to cover its losses very often.

That paddling is starting get a little choppier, however, as the city works to escape a projected $1.3 million deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Patrons of Menlo Park libraries, parks, and other facilities may start to notice the budget strain this year, with the city already stretched thin due to cutbacks over the past year-plus.

"I think we did a good job for the last two years of holding the line on subsidized programs," Mayor Rich Cline said at the council's April 20 meeting, flipping through a list of recommendations from city management on reducing city services. "I remember going through these on some late nights, and avoiding a lot of these types of cuts. And I don't think we can do it again."

The city has deferred capital improvement projects in each of the past two years, when mid-year revenue came in below projections.

This year, management's recommendations include a reduction of six-and-a-half full-time city positions, including a police officer, a librarian, and a teacher at the Belle Haven child care center. The city also plans to close the senior center and the underused Belle Haven library one day per week, to cut morning hours at the Onetta Harris Community Center, and to decrease park maintenance, among other things.

Those measures are still relatively mild, and might only be temporary. But if things don't turn around, residents could see more drastic cuts in the future: the closure of the main library one day per week, the elimination of the city-run child care program in the Civic Center, and the shuttering of the Belle Haven library, which primarily serves students in the Ravenswood City School District.

"Those are the ideas we came up with this year because of what's going on in the organization," said City Manager Glen Rojas in an interview, stressing that the library and the child care program won't necessarily be the first city programs to fall under the budget ax, if it falls. "We were trying to get a handle on the areas we could cut that would have the least amount of impact on the general community. Next year, whether it's the same situation or whether it's worse, we may be in a different position."

Mr. Rojas' goal is for the city to reach long-term financial sustainability within five years. Though Menlo Park often ran surpluses before the recession, the city has long maintained that it has a structural budget deficit.

The first task is to determine how much of the city's deficit is the result of the recession, and how much of it can be attributed to structural issues, according to Mr. Rojas. He said he hopes to have an answer for the council this time next year, presenting council members with a baseline they can work from to winnow the long-term gap between revenue and expenses. Many of the city's cuts thus far have been reversible, so that the city is prepared for a recovery, if and when it comes.

In May, the council is scheduled to discuss the possibility of initiating a ballot measure to raise the tax on hotel guests. It is also set to debate the future of the Burgess child care center, which has been in limbo for the past year and a half, as the city gauges whether it can recoup enough of its costs to justify operating the program.

At the April 20 meeting, council members said they were not inclined to eliminate the $100,000 or so the city gives annually to community groups, or to hike the utility tax.

"If we increase (the utility tax), I think it's going to feel like we're piling on," Councilman Heyward Robinson said, referring to the fact that water and garbage rates are increasing sharply due to factors outside the city's control.

While many of the cuts seem to be centered in the Belle Haven neighborhood, Mr. Rojas pointed out that programs in that neighborhood receive the highest rate of subsidization from the city. Rather than increase fees for community members who may not be able to afford them, the city looked to trim services that were underutilized, he said.

"We agonized over these recommendations," he said at the council meeting. In the interview, he stressed that the city's still in decent shape, all things considered.

"We're not burning though our reserves, by any means," he said. "I think we've done a really good job, the council and the staff, of working together to adjust the budget each year. We're getting better at it, and we're shrinking the organization to what we believe is an ongoing, sustainable level."

Councilman Andy Cohen said that, while he supported management's decision to hold off on the more severe service reductions it had contemplated, the city appears to be headed for deeper cuts in the coming years. He hinted that next year he may press the City Council and executive management to take voluntary pay cuts, a suggestion he has been making in private since early 2009.

"This is not over yet, and we are not on the verge of anything like a recovery, but that's just my opinion," he said.

Noting that preliminary budgets for the past several years have shown expenses rising faster than revenue, Councilman John Boyle said the city's structural budget gap is "heading in the wrong direction."

Council members said they were reluctant to slash funding for programs used by people most in need of city services, but voiced general support for management's recommendations.

"After many cuts, here we are, left with the children and the seniors, and maybe that's just a regrettable situation in the cut cycle," Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said.

The council will approve a final budget in June.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Why not trim staff instead?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 27, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Joanna very appropriately asks:"Why not trim staff instead?"

Simply because the unions have contributed heavily to the election of a majority of the City Council. Cutting staff is the ONLY effective way to really bring expenses in line with revenues.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm

They will cut teachers, fire and police before they would consider reducing a city staffer's salary or benefits, reduce a travel budget or eliminate a staff party.

They know exactly what raises the ire of the public and allows them to raise taxes.


Like this comment
Posted by yeah
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Apr 27, 2010 at 9:26 pm


Schools and Fire are not under city control, police are. I'm all for cutting the cops. Ever notice how useless they are around here? Yet we pay them 100K to 150K a year.

The firemen are much worse. did you know they have the same size budget as the city of menlo park, but less than half the number of people. ergo, they make on average twice as much as city employees. Now there's fat in the system to cut.


Like this comment
Posted by Ex Government Employee
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 28, 2010 at 9:13 am

I live in Belle Haven and signed the petition for City Employee Pension reform. Having been an ex Federal Employee I was for good benefits because Government Employees used to make less money than those in the private sector. But this is no longer the case. City employees make far better wages than their counterparts in the private sector and their benefits are even much higher than Federal Government retirees not to mention private sector employees who are just grateful to have a job.

When I see how the newly proposed benefits for new City employees will still be far greater than what the Federal Government had ever given its retirees and the fact the the City is proposing to significantly cut City services to make up for this pension liability is shocking.

How could the City Council forsake its commitment to the community for the City Employees. If the City employees were being treated unfairly I would sympathize with their plight. But they are rolling in the clover. What the City Council is doing is not right.

We need pension reform now. And the fact the the City Council is unwilling to do anything about it is a clear indication to me that they are working for the employee unions and not for the people of Menlo Park.

I would give my name but I fear for the safety of my family. If it was just me I would not have a problem revealing my true identity; but when I read about the recent fires in Menlo Park I just can't take the chance. I have to keep my family safe.


Like this comment
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm

So let me tell you what I would do if Rojas reported to me. I will do this in the form of a play:

Setting = office

ME (in the form of a council member): "So Rojas, can you tell me based on your far reaching experience managing town budgets through economic cycles how the town is doing?"

Rojas: "I hope to have an answer for you this time next year."

ME: "Uh, is this not the reason we pay you $250K plus bonus plus a sweetheart home loan?"

Rojas: "We were trying to get a handle on the areas we could cut that would have the least amount of impact on the general community. Next year, whether it's the same situation or whether it's worse, we may be in a different position."

ME: "So you are not able to answer the question???"

Rojas: "Those are the ideas we came up with this year because of what's going on in the organization."

ME: "What?"

Rojas: "My goal is for the city to reach long-term financial sustainability within five years. Though Menlo Park often ran surpluses before the recession, the city has long maintained that it has a structural budget deficit."

ME: "OK, so what you are saying is that when times are good, MP has a surplus, and when times are bad we have deficit?"

Rojas: "I hope to have an answer for you, this time next year."

ME: "You HOPE or you will. What is it we pay you for again?"

Rojas: "I have to stress that the city's still in decent shape, all things considered."

ME: "So you are saying that things aren't so bad?"

Rojas: "I hope to have an answer for you, this time next year. I mean We agonized over these recommendations."

ME: "Agonized over what again? Perhaps considering cutting your own salary?

Rojas: "No no no, don't be silly, I have to stress that the library and the child care program won't necessarily be the FIRST city programs to fall under the budget ax, if it falls."

ME: (thinking to myself: I wish I could fire you) "Thank you Glen for all your hard work, clearly you are the best and most experienced leader we can get for 250K a year, please expect to receive additional bonuses for your leadership."

Rojas: (smiling) "I must stress that I hope to have an answer for you, this time next year, but if I don't remember, I am working on a five year plan. Seriously, did I use the word 'structural' enough to confuse you."


Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Such bold talk from someone too cowardly to run for office. Why don't you sack up and run "new guy"...?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Truth? states:"Such bold talk from someone too cowardly to run for office."

Perhaps Truth would be so kind to tell us what offices he has run for? What he has done for our community?
Why does he choose to hid hid real name? - Cowardly?
Why we should even consider him as Truthful?


Like this comment
Posted by The Hallway Monitor
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Sounds like personal attacks on a poster from Peter Carpenter again. They need to be removed ASAP in accordance with this site's Terms of Use.

Your prompt attention to this matter is appreciated.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Hallway Monitor states:"Sounds like personal attacks on a poster from Peter Carpenter again."

Just four simple questions, no attacks.

The truth needs to and will come out.


Like this comment
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I did not create the quotes from Rojas. They come from this story:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 29, 2010 at 10:00 am

The difference here, Peter, is that I respect those that do run. I don't race to the bottom with insults even when I disagree vehemently. It is called class, and naturally you don't understand.


Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 29, 2010 at 10:04 am

Now "new guy" can't even show the stones to back up his garbage insults. Talk is cheap guys. I have stated numerous times that I disagree with some of the policies of this council, but I do it with respect. When I disagree with you trolls, I do it with contempt.


Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Thanks new guy!


Like this comment
Posted by thomas
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 30, 2010 at 1:21 am

Since they have refused to remove the red-light camera's on El Camino, there is hardly any need for traffic enforcement in that area. Go ahead and cut a some police officers. While you are at it. Cut those officers hanging out in the donut shops along El Camino all night long.
That should save quite a bit of money for the city. There was a time when people took Civil Service jobs even though they paid less because of the job security. Now those jobs pay 25% more than the private sector along with the job security, medical, pension and other benefits. Something is terribly wrong. It took the Great Recession to wake people up.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Park Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2010 at 7:15 am

Truth is being disingenuous. He/she has excoriated Duboc and Winkler at least 20 times in Almanac rants without a scintillla of proof of misdeeds.

Duboc and Winkler were honest people dedicated to the people of Menlo Park. They got the Rosewood resort approved and in turn have produced a much needed revenue stream to the city. Something that no previous "Union Owned" Council would have dreamed of doing. It was the San Mateo County Labor Council in concert with the far left in Menlo Park who carpet bombed the City residents with mailers containing lies, distortions, and half truths regarding Winkler and Duboc. It is unfortunate so many residents were too disengaged from the Menlo Park political process to realize what a bunch of lies were being disseminated. So two dedicated public servants were turned out. The Unions bought the 2006 City Council election.

What we have with the Union Bought 2006 council currently in powere is continuede back room deals with the labor unions, huge budget deficits, and severe cuts in City services. Robinson and Cline should be voted out and Fergusson should be recalled.

Cohen and Boyle are the only council members who are not Union owned.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 30, 2010 at 9:32 am

Here is some recent Truth? postings:

"Now "new guy" can't even show the stones to back up his garbage insults. Talk is cheap guys. I have stated numerous times that I disagree with some of the policies of this council, but I do it with respect. When I disagree with you trolls, I do it with contempt."

Such bold talk from someone too cowardly to run for office. Why don't you sack up and run "new guy"...?"

". I don't race to the bottom with insults even when I disagree vehemently. It is called class, and naturally you don't understand."

Perhaps Truth would do all of us a favor and find someplace else to play.


Like this comment
Posted by a citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 30, 2010 at 11:44 am


So why is it that when we need cuts, it's always the library hours, street and park maintenance, etc. It is never the paper shufflers in the back rooms of city hall? Just what is it that they do anyway?


Like this comment
Posted by mutt
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Rojas has adamantly refused to trim executive salaries, including his own. If this were a private enterprise, a good 10$ of the staff would be eliminated. Why does Rojas need two assistant city managers? Why did our traffic engineering department triple in size? It's pretty well known that the city added a business development staffer because the original BD guy can't handle the job. (Which seems to be the theme -- if someone is doing a bad job, instead of firing him, hire another person to do the job the first person couldn't manage.) How many conferences do Rojas and crew attend each year?

Our city needs a manager who can think like a private enterprise leader. Public sector managers are way too focused on building their headcount, pumping up their resumes, and getting more goodies for their underlings.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2010 at 9:12 am

"Duboc and Winkler were honest people dedicated to the people of Menlo Park."

And Sarah Palin is a Rhodes Scholar.


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

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