Faced with enormous anticipated budget shortfalls in the upcoming fiscal year, the Menlo Park City Council authorized budget cuts totaling about $11.7 million to city operations Thursday night.
The actions also mean that 17 benefited employees and 40 non-benefited temporary employees will receive layoff notices, not including the police department, confirmed Assistant City Manager Nick Pegueros on Friday.
The cuts leave an estimated $1.8 million in additional shortfalls, which the council has yet to decide how to pay for. That will likely be covered with one-time money, whether it comes from the city's strategic reserves, a property sale, or one of several other sources.
The council opted to make a number of cuts to police department operations. In addition to eliminating the department's traffic unit, the council voted to suspend proactive permit enforcements, eliminate proactive investigations, including gang and narcotics investigations, eliminate planned expansions of the city's open data and crime analysis tools, reduce code enforcement efforts and cut $600,000 in funding for police patrols. The measures were estimated to save about $1.4 million.
Ultimately, the police chief, Dave Bertini, has the authority to distribute resources as needed within the department, which means that the layoffs would hit junior officers the hardest, and enforcement resources could be moved around based on the greatest area of need.
In addition, the council voted 4-1, with Mayor Cecilia Taylor opposed, to authorize layoff notices to be provided to affected employees. Taylor said she voted against the measure because she didn't support some of the layoffs. Union agreements require a 45-day notice period before a layoff takes effect, and there is still potential, during that window, for things to change, said Councilwoman Catherine Carlton.
"I hope a lot of things happen that mean we save jobs, I sincerely do," she said.
But delaying sending out the layoff notices even until June 9 was estimated to cost the city an additional $200,000, said Pegueros.
"Every week we put this off it costs us more money and we have to make more cuts," Carlton added.
The deliberations Thursday night built on a series of previous decisions around the city's need to cut costs, given the severe economic repercussions of the community shutdowns that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council also agreed to the following cuts:
Reducing parks and landscape maintenance by $300,000. Doing so will keep parks herbicide-free, but limit maintenance.
Reducing tree maintenance to save $171,000. In addition to reducing the frequency with which city trees are trimmed, the city will delay implementing the new heritage tree ordinance.
Keeping the Onetta Harris Community Center closed until the new community center and library in Belle Haven is built, to save $302,000.
Furloughing the city's gymnastics program for six months to save $759,000.
Reducing contract planning services and development review by $205,000.
Belle Haven pool saved
Amid all of the proposed cuts, one survivor was the Belle Haven pool, which the council decided to reopen as soon as it is able, until it is shut down for construction to move forward with the new Belle Haven Community Center and Library project, anticipated to start at the end of the year. Pools are now allowed to reopen under county guidelines. The city is working through contract updates with the operator of the Belle Haven and Burgess pools, Tim Sheeper, and plans to bring those updates to the City Council for approval on June 9.
A key consideration for the council with this decision was the fact that the summer is expected to be a hot one, and the typical places people go to escape the heat – offices, movie theaters, libraries or malls – won't be available because of pandemic-related shutdowns.
The decision on whether to eliminate the city's two preschool programs was put on hold until more information could be collected. The council is also set to discuss that matter at its June 9 meeting.