The Menlo Park Fire Protection District board unanimously approved a new budget June 16 after removing funds for proposed new positions and staff reclassifications.
The decision on the 2020-21 fiscal year budget followed a discussion led by board member Chuck Bernstein, who said that he felt more analysis was needed before the board approved the additions and reclassifications. The district's Finance Committee will now review the proposed staff changes, and the board could decide to approve them later in the fiscal year, which began July 1. Staff had proposed funding three new battalion chiefs, one new information technology analyst and three part-time emergency management coordinators, as well as reclassifying four positions.
"I'm concerned about the addition to headcount," Bernstein said. "I'd like us to take all of those items out, both the additions and reclassifications ... and act on them on their own merits with a hearing on each one, because I think these things should be justified.
"I don't know what these positions are, I don't know what the people are going to do, I don't know whether we need them," he said later in the meeting. "It would be wonderful if we were back in February and we had a meeting to talk about these things and understand them, but here we are two weeks before the budget has to be approved and we haven't had a chance to discuss them."
There was also confusion during the meeting about whether the three battalion chief positions had already been approved at a previous board meeting. Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said it was his understanding that the board had greenlighted the new roles; Bernstein said he thought the board had approved funds for management training, but not specifically for new positions. His amendment to the budget that the board approved included the addition of an undetermined amount of money for management training.
"I'm for these funds, I agree with the funds -- I'm just not necessarily agreeing with three more bodies sitting in firehouses," Bernstein said. "I want to see the justification for that, particularly knowing that our calls are down now."
Board vice president Jim McLaughlin said that, moving forward, unfilled non-line positions should be subject to board approval.
"If we think we're so special that we can watch these other government jurisdictions around us bleed personnel and budgets and that we're somehow immune to it, I think that's something we need to reconsider," he said.
The budget projects $60 million in total revenues for 2020-21 -- including $54.7 million in property tax revenue, an increase of 4% over last fiscal year -- and $57 million in expenditures (although that estimate was provided before the board decided to leave out new positions and reclassifications). The district initially projected that expenditures would include $45 million for wages and benefits, $9.5 million for other operating costs and $2.5 million toward California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) unfunded pension liability. Last year, the district saw $60.3 million in revenues and had $58.1 million in expenditures.
District staff cut nearly $6 million from the 2019-20 budget and $5 million from 2020-21 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the new fiscal year the cuts include halting the purchasing plan for apparatuses, reducing travel expenditures and removing a training prop from the budget.
The district's capital improvement projects budget for 2020-21 is $5.5 million, which is earmarked for the project to rebuild Station 4 in Menlo Park. The station, located at the corner of Alameda de las Pulgas and Valparaiso Avenue, was built in 1949 and is the oldest in the district.
At the same meeting, the board authorized a November election for two members' seats: Rob Silano and Virginia Chang Kiraly.
Silano and Chang Kiraly were elected in November 2011. Directors serve four-year terms, with elections held every two years.
Silano confirmed in an email that he is running for reelection. Chang Kiraly did not respond to requests for comment before The Almanac's press deadline Wednesday.