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Menlo Park council OKs cuts to traffic enforcement, library services

The Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday agreed to a number of proposed cost-saving measures, including reducing library hours by 25% at the main and Belle Haven branch libraries, and reducing the book and e-resource budget up to 75%. Almanac file photo.

As the end of June looms closer, the Menlo Park City Council debated late into Tuesday night over what city costs to cut in order to create a balanced budget by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created about an $8 million shortfall this fiscal year and is anticipated to generate a shortfall of $12.7 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

The council has some funds saved up for difficult financial times, and staff advised spending up to $4 million of that one-time money to get through the pandemic's impacts over the next year. That left about $8.7 for the council to figure out how to cut.

The council agreed Tuesday to a series of budget cuts. First, a set of reductions by department aimed at saving a little under $800,000. It also agreed to reductions offered by the city's unrepresented management group to reduce personnel costs by 25%, including freezing two positions, suspending pay increases and bonuses and other steps to save $1.14 million.

Next, it opted to save another $3.7 million by adopting another list of cuts, identified by staff as being fairly low-impact to the community. Those included measures like cutting some vacant positions, halting free Caltrain passes for city employees, stopping the city's holiday decoration and lighting program, delaying vehicle purchases and reducing temporary staff by 30%.

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Up for consideration to be cut were an estimated $144,000 measure to expand access to police data and a $272,000 estimated cost to eliminate oversight of contract custodial services during the night shift, which the council opted to keep for now instead of cut. "Anything related to cleaning services I don't want to eliminate," said Mayor Cecilia Taylor.

The council discussed in depth and agreed to a number of proposed cost-saving measures to library services, such as withdrawing from the Peninsula Library System, reducing library hours by 25% at the main and Belle Haven branch libraries, and reducing the book and e-resource budget up to 75%.

Membership in the Peninsula Library System has increased by 17% in four years, said Sean Reinhart, library director. "It's gotten to the point where the value proposition isn't the same as it was in the '80s when it was formed." Libraries are switching to "fulfillment" models from "repository" models, in which people identify what they want and look to the library to provide it, rather than browsing through lots of books on shelves, which can be more efficient and cost-effective. The Friends of the Menlo Park Library nonprofit was expected to step in to provide support to help make up for some of the planned cuts to pay for library materials, he added.

The Menlo Park council agreed to eliminate the police department's traffic unit, which would save $800,000. Almanac file photo.

And while the council agreed to a few extra cuts – including the big-ticket elimination of the police department's traffic unit, set to save $800,000 – they were split on many other items. Additional cuts included daytime parking enforcement, community engagement by the police department, sign replacements, additional IT support, some public works permit review capacity. Together, those cuts were anticipated to result in the layoffs of four full-time employees and 41 temporary employees and freezes of 14 positions, according to staff. The city's labor unions require 45 days' notice before layoffs can take place, so city savings from those layoffs are still some time away from taking effect, staff said. They expected to start providing those notices to affected employees starting May 27.

The council agreed to meet for another discussion sometime before City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson is scheduled to release her proposed budget for the council to review on June 9. Councilman Ray Mueller said he wanted the council to consult with an economic expert to provide input on the budget before finalizing it. When that meeting would happen is still to be determined, because the council was tentatively scheduled to discuss the topic of on-street dining on Santa Cruz Avenue with the Chamber of Commerce at its next meeting, June 2.

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Because there is so much uncertainty about the future of the economy locally, Jerome Robinson said she planned to put together an initial 90-day budget to start. After that, the budget could be reviewed quarterly at the start of October, January and April over the coming year for potential updates based on the economy, explained Finance Manager Dan Jacobson.

A couple of the most controversial budget cut considerations were postponed to a later date: whether to retain the city's two child care centers, which are heavily subsidized by the city, and what to do about the city's gymnastics center, which has broken even or operated at a surplus up until now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the gymnastics center hasn't been in operation, and staff members haven't been furloughed or laid off.

Looking ahead to the future, it's not certain when or if children's gymnastics will be back any time soon – because gymnastics has usually involved groups of children frequently touching equipment, the activity is considered a higher-risk one for the virus to spread. Even if the gymnastics center were to reopen, it's not clear whether the demand would be sufficient for the program to be as financially successful as it has in the past, and it would probably have a lower capacity, staff said. A pessimistic financial projection, in which the gymnastics center couldn't open until Jan. 1, 2021, indicates a net loss to the city of about $759,000. Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she'd favor transitioning the program to operation by a third party, and the council agreed to furlough the program – and the 26 temporary workers involved in it – until it's a bit clearer what its future could look like.

The council also has some options for additional revenue and one-time money. There's an economic stabilization reserve of about $11.6 million, and about $2.32 million in unassigned money that's part of the city's general fund. It could also postpone capital improvements to save about $3 million or sell a property it recently bought at 1283 Willow Road, expected to generate about $3.6 million. Or the council could opt to increase its utility users' tax, to generate about $1.9 million, or consider raising other taxes, like the city's business license tax to generate about $1 million, or its transient occupancy tax, also known as a hotel tax. Both of those steps would require voter approval, however, and it's not clear how much an increase in hotel taxes would generate if few people are staying in hotels for the duration of the pandemic.

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Menlo Park council OKs cuts to traffic enforcement, library services

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, May 27, 2020, 11:55 am

As the end of June looms closer, the Menlo Park City Council debated late into Tuesday night over what city costs to cut in order to create a balanced budget by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created about an $8 million shortfall this fiscal year and is anticipated to generate a shortfall of $12.7 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

The council has some funds saved up for difficult financial times, and staff advised spending up to $4 million of that one-time money to get through the pandemic's impacts over the next year. That left about $8.7 for the council to figure out how to cut.

The council agreed Tuesday to a series of budget cuts. First, a set of reductions by department aimed at saving a little under $800,000. It also agreed to reductions offered by the city's unrepresented management group to reduce personnel costs by 25%, including freezing two positions, suspending pay increases and bonuses and other steps to save $1.14 million.

Next, it opted to save another $3.7 million by adopting another list of cuts, identified by staff as being fairly low-impact to the community. Those included measures like cutting some vacant positions, halting free Caltrain passes for city employees, stopping the city's holiday decoration and lighting program, delaying vehicle purchases and reducing temporary staff by 30%.

Up for consideration to be cut were an estimated $144,000 measure to expand access to police data and a $272,000 estimated cost to eliminate oversight of contract custodial services during the night shift, which the council opted to keep for now instead of cut. "Anything related to cleaning services I don't want to eliminate," said Mayor Cecilia Taylor.

The council discussed in depth and agreed to a number of proposed cost-saving measures to library services, such as withdrawing from the Peninsula Library System, reducing library hours by 25% at the main and Belle Haven branch libraries, and reducing the book and e-resource budget up to 75%.

Membership in the Peninsula Library System has increased by 17% in four years, said Sean Reinhart, library director. "It's gotten to the point where the value proposition isn't the same as it was in the '80s when it was formed." Libraries are switching to "fulfillment" models from "repository" models, in which people identify what they want and look to the library to provide it, rather than browsing through lots of books on shelves, which can be more efficient and cost-effective. The Friends of the Menlo Park Library nonprofit was expected to step in to provide support to help make up for some of the planned cuts to pay for library materials, he added.

And while the council agreed to a few extra cuts – including the big-ticket elimination of the police department's traffic unit, set to save $800,000 – they were split on many other items. Additional cuts included daytime parking enforcement, community engagement by the police department, sign replacements, additional IT support, some public works permit review capacity. Together, those cuts were anticipated to result in the layoffs of four full-time employees and 41 temporary employees and freezes of 14 positions, according to staff. The city's labor unions require 45 days' notice before layoffs can take place, so city savings from those layoffs are still some time away from taking effect, staff said. They expected to start providing those notices to affected employees starting May 27.

The council agreed to meet for another discussion sometime before City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson is scheduled to release her proposed budget for the council to review on June 9. Councilman Ray Mueller said he wanted the council to consult with an economic expert to provide input on the budget before finalizing it. When that meeting would happen is still to be determined, because the council was tentatively scheduled to discuss the topic of on-street dining on Santa Cruz Avenue with the Chamber of Commerce at its next meeting, June 2.

Because there is so much uncertainty about the future of the economy locally, Jerome Robinson said she planned to put together an initial 90-day budget to start. After that, the budget could be reviewed quarterly at the start of October, January and April over the coming year for potential updates based on the economy, explained Finance Manager Dan Jacobson.

A couple of the most controversial budget cut considerations were postponed to a later date: whether to retain the city's two child care centers, which are heavily subsidized by the city, and what to do about the city's gymnastics center, which has broken even or operated at a surplus up until now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the gymnastics center hasn't been in operation, and staff members haven't been furloughed or laid off.

Looking ahead to the future, it's not certain when or if children's gymnastics will be back any time soon – because gymnastics has usually involved groups of children frequently touching equipment, the activity is considered a higher-risk one for the virus to spread. Even if the gymnastics center were to reopen, it's not clear whether the demand would be sufficient for the program to be as financially successful as it has in the past, and it would probably have a lower capacity, staff said. A pessimistic financial projection, in which the gymnastics center couldn't open until Jan. 1, 2021, indicates a net loss to the city of about $759,000. Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she'd favor transitioning the program to operation by a third party, and the council agreed to furlough the program – and the 26 temporary workers involved in it – until it's a bit clearer what its future could look like.

The council also has some options for additional revenue and one-time money. There's an economic stabilization reserve of about $11.6 million, and about $2.32 million in unassigned money that's part of the city's general fund. It could also postpone capital improvements to save about $3 million or sell a property it recently bought at 1283 Willow Road, expected to generate about $3.6 million. Or the council could opt to increase its utility users' tax, to generate about $1.9 million, or consider raising other taxes, like the city's business license tax to generate about $1 million, or its transient occupancy tax, also known as a hotel tax. Both of those steps would require voter approval, however, and it's not clear how much an increase in hotel taxes would generate if few people are staying in hotels for the duration of the pandemic.

Comments

Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 27, 2020 at 12:25 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 27, 2020 at 12:25 pm
20 people like this

This is a classic short term solution to a long term problem.

This exercise will need to be repeated quarterly and all the time the economic shortfall will become greater.

The Council needs to do Zero Base Budgeting that looks at every source of revenue and every class of expenditure NOW and not waste time with continuous short term solutions.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 27, 2020 at 1:01 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 27, 2020 at 1:01 pm
8 people like this

From WSJ:

"The virus will be with us for a long time, and it will hobble the economy more than most people realize. Restaurants that serve every other table, and airlines with every other seat empty, must charge twice as much or halve wages. Workplaces with 6 feet between employees need to rent more space. Every business that has to disinfect once an hour must pass that cost along.

Efficiency is the secret of the American economy. The careful economy scales back that efficiency."

The City of Menlo Park faces a long term, not a short term, problem. Every source of revenue will decrease except maybe property tax revenues. And property tax revenues could decrease if significant commercial vacancies result in reassessments.


conscience
Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 27, 2020 at 1:11 pm
conscience, Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 27, 2020 at 1:11 pm
5 people like this

Couldn't agree me with Peter Carpenter! The Council will be goin through this exercise every three months if the budgeting process isn't changed.


E-reader and voter
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 27, 2020 at 1:18 pm
E-reader and voter, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 27, 2020 at 1:18 pm
5 people like this

I am dismayed that the city is withdrawing from PLS and reducing e-resources. Seniors rely on these, and will be the last group allowed to quit Shelter at Home.

The UUT may not need a new vote of our citizens. I believe a range was allowed by the original public vote; past Councils haven't implemented the maximum. So this Council could proceed with what was previously approved. If the Council wants to revise the UUT structure or limits that would require another vote, the should still approve what they can and also proceed to get another public vote.


new guy
Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 27, 2020 at 1:42 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 27, 2020 at 1:42 pm
19 people like this

Looks like no one wants to own up to cutting anything. Though I honestly think this is the best council I have ever seen in MP since I moved here 18 years ago, I am saddened to see the request for an "outside economic advisor." Large cuts have to happen, and happen now. This is the job of the council, if you wish to abdicate,, just step down. No need to hide behind some "expert" opinion. Do your job. Make the cuts.


Henry fox
Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm
Henry fox, Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm
1 person likes this

Have the E-resouces from the library--including films from kanopy and hoopla, mango languages and online books and magazines and newspapers--decreased or increased since the shut down occurred?


James Madison
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 27, 2020 at 4:24 pm
James Madison, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 27, 2020 at 4:24 pm
4 people like this

It's bizarre to read that Council is considering even temporary budget cuts (a) without regard to impact of cuts on revenues, whether direct or indirect, such as parking enforcement and availability of child care; (b) without having established quality of life priorities, such as where does availability of youth, adult or senior recreation fit; and (c) on the premise that privatizing will be more economical.


Beata
another community
on May 28, 2020 at 11:04 am
Beata, another community
on May 28, 2020 at 11:04 am
8 people like this

Peter is correct.
Zero based budgeting is how we all assess our own finances and budget.
Far more understandable to council and residents.
Substantial cuts need happen now rather than in dribbles. Just Facebookers working from home will impact sales taxes and even if a vaccine is miraculously found, we still need to administer worldwide and convince people to get it.


Stu Soffer
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 28, 2020 at 1:08 pm
Stu Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 28, 2020 at 1:08 pm
2 people like this

Responding to 'New Guy':

I'm an occasional guest of a small think tank that has weekly dinners in Menlo Park. Great minds, retired Stanford folks - some living in Menlo Park. I suggested pitching assistance from them - pro bono


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 28, 2020 at 1:35 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 28, 2020 at 1:35 pm
11 people like this

We have five very bright council members - that don't need more advice, they just need the courage to act.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 28, 2020 at 2:53 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 28, 2020 at 2:53 pm
7 people like this

For zero cost here is the advice of 31 economic experts:

"Don’t Expect A Quick Recovery. Our Survey Of Economists Says It Will Likely Take Years."

"That pessimistic outlook also came through in our panel’s predictions for when the economy might return to the way it was before the pandemic. The researchers predicted, on average, only an 11 percent chance that real GDP will have caught up to its pre-crisis (fourth quarter of 2019) level by the first half of 2021 and only a 17 percent chance that it will have caught up to its pre-crisis level by the end of 2021. On average, they thought there was roughly a 40 percent probability that GDP would return to its pre-crisis levels sometime in 2022. But they assigned a 32 percent chance to the possibility that GDP wouldn’t return to its pre-crisis level until 2023 or later. Wright pointed out, too, that matching the pre-crisis GDP still isn’t a full recovery, since the economy would have continued to grow if the recession hadn’t happened."

Web Link

Your revenue losses started months ago but nothing has happened to your expenditures.

So Council start dealing with the reality of a long term and slow recovery, quit doing short term micro cutting and revise Menlo Park's budget from the bottom up to deal with the new reality.

Every day that passes without a totally new budget means the deficit will grow larger and the necessary cuts will be even greater.


Roy Thiele-Sardiña
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 29, 2020 at 8:35 am
Roy Thiele-Sardiña, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 29, 2020 at 8:35 am
9 people like this

The city has a fiduciary duty to the citizens (read tax payers) of Menlo Park to DRASTICALLY reduce it's expenditures immediately. That the citizens of Menlo Park continue to support many programs that benefit a small group of citizens is unjust.

we need to look at the TOTAL cost (cast minus revenue) of all the programs, as the density is reduced for Covid in some of these areas. we either have to increase the payments by participants or STOP the programs.

we can ALWAYS reinstate them when they are fiscally feasible.

The council needs to do the RIGHT thing fiscally for ALL the citizens of Menlo Park NOW.

This is NOT rocket science or brain surgery. developing an operating budget is a zero sum game, and saving city employee jobs should not be the major decision factor.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 29, 2020 at 9:04 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 29, 2020 at 9:04 am
9 people like this

Council Member Mueller attempted to get his colleagues to at least discuss outsourcing police services.

Sadly none of his four colleagues supported even thinking about the subject! Amazing.

I predict that after two or three painful quarterly micromanaging budget adjustments requiring a real loss of services his colleagues will realize the wisdom of doing the one single thing that will both save a lot of money and improve service levels by contracting with the Sheriff for police services.

In the meantime, sadly, a lot of important programs will be sacrificed on this alter of micro mismanaging.


Amazed?
Menlo Park: other
on May 29, 2020 at 9:24 am
Amazed?, Menlo Park: other
on May 29, 2020 at 9:24 am
9 people like this

> Sadly none of his four colleagues supported even thinking about the subject! Amazing.

Deeply disappointing, but hardly surprising or amazing. The union controls this council via the staff. It's very predictable, and very said, since on the merits, it's sooooo obvious it's the right decision.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 29, 2020 at 2:33 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 29, 2020 at 2:33 pm
3 people like this

Here is a great model for the City Council:

"In an announcement issued Wednesday, May 27, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said that the university has been hit by declining revenue and increasing costs, trends that he anticipates continuing — and worsening — well into the next fiscal year.

"We are now coming to a greater understanding that the effects of this crisis on the university's finances will last well into the future. We must plan not just for a temporary budget blip that disappears by this fall, but rather an ongoing challenge that requires us to re-set expectations and chart a new steady state for the university's operations," he said."

So 31 economic experts and the President of Stanford have made it clear - this is NOT a short term problem that should be dealt with by micro mismanagement.


pearl
another community
on May 29, 2020 at 3:02 pm
pearl, another community
on May 29, 2020 at 3:02 pm
23 people like this

The solution is to make a meaningful cut to the salaries of the City Manager, the Mayor, the City Council members, and all other employees acting in an administrative role.


conscience
Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 29, 2020 at 4:33 pm
conscience, Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 29, 2020 at 4:33 pm
6 people like this

Yes, there does need to be cuts to the salaries of the City Manager and other employees acting in an administrative role is a part, SMALL PART, of the solution. (Incidentally, the Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council members earn a nominal amount that would hardly put a dent in the budget deficit). Most Menlo Park and other municipal employees in the country, are unionized and those unions need to come to the table and provide meaningful proposals for cutting the deficit, including planned pay increases. The more the union employees give-up collectively, the more jobs can potentially be saved.


Beata
another community
on May 29, 2020 at 4:56 pm
Beata, another community
on May 29, 2020 at 4:56 pm
2 people like this

Regarding PLS fees and Menlo Park pulling out of the Peninsula Library System.
Historically almost 1/3 of MP service as measured by check outs of items went to non-MP residents.
This included Redwood City and East Palo Alto and others but was predominantly made up of Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley residents.

State reimbursement for that imbalance amounted to about 2% of the budget.

Menlo Park residents used other libraries but not to that large of a degree.

I have been retired over ten years but have no reason to think at least some of that imbalance holds true today.

Rather than pull out of PLS perhaps Portola Valley, Woodside and Atherton could contribute to pay MP’s fee?


Alexander Katz
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 31, 2020 at 7:06 pm
Alexander Katz, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 31, 2020 at 7:06 pm
16 people like this

The police budget is $21.5 million, and comprises over 30% of the entire city budget. In comparison, all community services -- housing & economic development (affordable housing), transportation, childcare, community centers & gymnastics, community events, and all libraries combined -- are collectively allocated $18.5 million. Even besides the need for budget cuts, this is an absurd mismatch in priorities in one of the wealthiest cities in the country.

This absurdly inflated funding doesn't even get results, for any reasonable definition. The average officer earns $223229 a year (benefits included), nearly double the average household income in the city. Collectively, the 76.5 employees investigated just 104 cases (29 of which were classified as "serious"), solving only 28%. Obviously, this is not the only service law enforcement provides, but the world will go on with a few less parking tickets. In comparison, the average housing & economic development employee earns over 25% than the average officer, yet the 3 (!) of them have funded 140 new affordable housing units.

The road to recovery will be long, and those hardest hit by the pandemic will be looking to these community services for help getting back on their feet. Cutting them may be the easy approach and the path of least resistance, but they will be more valuable then ever on the long road to recovery. Besides, nickel-and-diming them isn't a sustainable solution anyway; the world won't fully be back to normal will next month, or next year, or perhaps even by the end of the council's terms. Long-term solutions are needed. Scale back the police.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 1, 2020 at 7:00 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 1, 2020 at 7:00 am
3 people like this

" Long-term solutions are needed. Scale back the police."

No need to do that - just contract with the Sheriff for police services and the City will save millions AND have better and more easily and quickly adjustable police services - and with no liability for future police pension costs beyond what is paid in annual current costs to the Sheriff. A Win-Win-Win.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 1, 2020 at 7:44 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 1, 2020 at 7:44 am
1 person likes this

And this will further degrade Menlo Park's budget:

From the Financial Times:
"US pension plans warned they will run out of money by 2028

Many US public pension plans had not fully recovered from the 2007/08 financial crisis before coronavirus struck, triggering turmoil across financial markets. The correction in the US stock market has increased the long-term structural problems across the entire US public pension system, particularly for the weakest funds.

“Public plans with extremely low funded ratios in 2020 may face the risk of running out of assets in the foreseeable future if markets are slow to recover,” said Jean-Pierre Aubry of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which carried out a detailed study on the plight of US public pensions."



Black swan?
Menlo Park: other
on Jun 1, 2020 at 9:43 am
Black swan?, Menlo Park: other
on Jun 1, 2020 at 9:43 am
2 people like this

Also, what happens if and when a variant of George Floyd happens in Menlo Park? That would financially crush the city. A big city like Minneapolis can handle the payout. So could San Mateo County. Council members are being very myopic on this issue.


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