With a planned surplus of only $1, the Menlo Park City Council voted Tuesday night, June 23, to finalize an unprecedentedly lean budget to start off the new fiscal year on July 1.
The budget, which the council deliberated over through the course of 10 meetings since April, will yet likely need more revisions in the months to come, said City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson.
With so much in the air about what revenues the city may be taking in in the coming year, as well as what services the city will be permitted to provide and under what circumstances, there are still a lot of unknowns, she acknowledged. She said she anticipated regular check-ins with the council to make modifications to the budget as the 2020-21 fiscal year progresses.
In the budget adopted June 23, the city dipped into its reserves by $390,000 and cut overall staffing by 15%, or the full-time equivalent of 43.5 workers. Overall, the budget cuts are resulting in a loss of 16 regular and more than 50 temporary staff members, according to Jerome Robinson.
Across all city funds, the city plans to bring in $137.92 million in revenue and spend $126.12 million. The $11.8 million surplus all resides in restricted funds that can't be spent for other purposes, explained Assistant Administrative Services Director Dan Jacobson in a staff report. In its operating budget, the city aims to bring in $56.43 million in general fund and other revenue and spend $56.43 million.
The new budget cuts merged the Community Services and Library departments, which are now led by Sean Reinhart, who was promoted to lead Community Services in addition to being Library Services Director. Derek Schweigart, who until recently was Community Services Director, was laid off immediately, according to city staff.
The new budget also cuts $2.46 million from the Police Department. These cuts resulted in the layoffs of six sworn police officers and the elimination of the city's traffic unit, proactive gang and narcotics investigations and daytime parking enforcement. The number of full-time staff members in the police department will fall from 76.5 to 61.5, according to the city's online budget.
In addition, the council voted to cancel an order for a mobile command center, set to cost about $450,000, that it had approved back in November. It was partially grant-funded, but the city is expected to get about $319,000 back for its general fund, according to Councilwoman Betsy Nash.
The council also opted to keep several programs that had been threatened in previous budget discussions. The city will treat the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center and Onetta Harris Community Center equally, with services being opened up on equal terms whenever the city can get the green light to do so safely. The city won't withdraw from the Peninsula Library System after all.
At a protest held in Belle Haven last week, however, it was clear that because of the overall staffing cuts, which hit temporary and part-time workers, the Menlo Park Senior Center and Onetta Harris facilities will be losing staff members. Both facilities remain closed for now for public health reasons. The new adopted budget cuts the city's library and community services department to 59 full-time employees, from 71.
The city will also keep and reopen its child care programs at the Menlo Children's Center at the Burgess Park campus and the Belle Haven Child Development Center as soon as possible, with a $500 per month tuition increase at the Menlo Children's Center. The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to also send a letter to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors asking for support and consideration of an idea to use the city's child care centers as teaching centers for early childhood educators in the county.
In negotiations leading up to finalizing the budget, two of the city's labor bargaining units, the AFSCME and SEIU units representing municipal employees and service workers, respectively – agreed to defer their contractually promised cost of living adjustments and freeze the increase in the city's cost share rates for its pension contributions through the CalPERS system.
The city's police-related bargaining units, the Police Officers Association and the Police Sergeants Association, did not negotiate and kept their promised raises. Starting July 5, police recruits, officers and corporals will receive a raise of 3.5% and police sergeants a raise of 4.41%, according to a staff report.
One of the lengthy discussion points the council worked through Tuesday night was whether to set aside an additional $1 million in reserve funding to help smooth over some of the deep cuts and acknowledge future needs, as proposed by Councilman Ray Mueller. "We've really cut to the bone on this budget," he said.
He said he envisioned those funds going toward things the city will need to tackle in the coming year: exploring whatever policy ideas come from expected discussions about race and social equity in the coming months, adopting to-be-determined changes to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing the work of creating a new climate action plan and starting the work of updating the city's housing element, as it is required to do.
Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she wanted to see that additional amount be smaller, because it felt "awkward" to set aside that amount now, after the council had been so unwilling to dip into its reserves throughout the budgeting process. A majority of council members voted the idea down, with Carlton, Nash and Mayor Cecilia Taylor opposed.
Access the budget online here.