With Menlo Park’s new community campus opening in Belle Haven in mid-2024, the City Council, with an eye on the city's $1 million budget deficit, wants to hold down staffing expenses.
The Menlo Park Community Campus (MPCC) is opening at 100 Terminal Ave., replacing the former Onetta Harris Community Center in the Belle Haven neighborhood. Five main services will be offered at the center: an aquatics center, a library, a youth center, a senior center and a recreation center.
City staff presented the council with three staffing options for operating the new community center, with annual costs ranging from nearly $2 million down to a little over $1 million. Staff recommended the most expensive one, which includes six new full-time positions as well as seven temporary ones, totaling $1.99 million after adding operating costs such as IT support, supplies, repairs and maintenance, utilities and training. The new positions are a librarian, a library assistant, a recreation coordinator, a senior program assistant, a nutrition services coordinator and a library and community services supervisor.
The lower-cost option would cut the new positions down to three, eliminating a permanent library assistant, senior program assistant and library and community services coordinator, but add two temporary staffers, for $1.5 million annually. The cheapest option, which city staff does not recommend, would hire only nine temporary staffers and create no new positions, at a cost of $1.1 million. Any positions left unfilled would be taken over temporarily by current city employees.
Due to budget concerns, the council elected to look more closely at the mid-cost option. While the city expects to see $715,000 in annual revenue from things such as user fees, rentals and donations to the MPCC to offset the costs, the council is looking to minimize expenses after passing this year's $76 million budget with a forecasted $1 million deficit.
Three residents spoke at the meeting, urging the city to hire local residents to staff the MPCC, saying that they would best understand the community's needs.
While no vote was taken at the council meeting, members gave direction to staff to focus on equity for Belle Haven, a key concern among council members. Council member Maria Doerr said that the city has a library, a recreation center and a pool at Burgess Park on the west side of the city, and it is important to ensure that all services are equitable throughout Menlo Park, a commonly heard concern among Belle Haven residents.
The city plans to use money from Fund 111, or the One-Time Developer Payments Fund, to support the staffing of the MPCC, but those funds cannot be used in perpetuity. Fund 111 has approximately $2.8 million in it, with an additional $1.5 million in revenue payments expected this fiscal year. The council can authorize the use of the fund to finance some of the early years’ operational costs, and city staff said that it had sufficient funds to support the staffing expenses for several years.
"We want to make sure that we don't hire on folks for two or three years and then have to have a conversation about cutting staff," Doerr said. "That's the last thing I'd hope for, given the important resource of this community center."
Council member Betsy Nash said that the city is in a different fiscal position than it was when the community center project got the green light in 2021.
"In the short term, you kind of do what you have to do," said Library and Community Services Director Sean Reinhart, who warned against relying on current city staffers to take on additional MPCC duties for too long before hiring dedicated employees for the new Belle Haven campus. "In the long term, it has deleterious effects, just like the human body. You can go without some nutrients for a while, but if it goes on too long, you start to have some longer-term issues," he told the council.
Mayor Jen Wolosin said that the council should find a solution that didn't burn out employees as they are the city's "most important resource."
City staffers will return to the City Council at a future meeting with a proposal for hiring four MPCC employees that also offers the option to reduce that down to three, and said they would try to find some additional cost savings.