For the 2019-20 fiscal year, the city's planning for $169 million in revenue and $171 million in spending, drawing on existing capital improvement funds to balance the budget, and plans for a surplus of $100,000.
One element of the proposed budget that Mayor Ray Mueller questioned was a change from past policy to dedicate future ERAF dollars to pay down pension liabilities, since it's not revenue that's guaranteed to go to the city in the years to come.
However, according to Finance and Budget Manager Dan Jacobson, the city could save over $18 million over the long run by using that money to amortize the $30.4 million it has in unfunded pension liability in 10 years instead of 15.
ERAF, short for educational revenue augmentation fund, represents a pool of property tax revenue from cities and special districts that doesn't go to the local "basic aid" school districts, where property taxes cover a base per-student dollar amount. Both the Menlo Park City and Las Lomitas school districts, with schools in Menlo Park, are basic aid districts.
These revenues can have a big impact on a school district's bottom line. In Southern California, when the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in Los Angeles County became a "basic aid" school district earlier this year, the district lost $8.6 million in ERAF funding, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.
When Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor asked if school districts had ever asked for ERAF money, city staff said there's not a clear pathway in which a school district might be able to access those funds if the city doesn't spend them. Mueller had previously proposed using a joint powers authority structure to bring cities together and contribute their excess ERAF funds to support capital needs in the Ravenswood City School District, which Belle Haven School in Menlo Park is part of, but the new council has yet to talk about that idea.
Mueller said he doesn't want to count on the full ERAF refund and leave only the $100,000 surplus as a buffer.
Several members of the public advised caution on the city budget: Former mayor Mickie Winkler asked the council to hire an auditor for an organizational review of city staff, arguing that Menlo Park has a large staff for a city of its size.
Councilwoman Cat Carlton responded that the city has a comparatively larger staff because it provides comparatively more services. City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson noted that the city runs two day care centers, two pools, an overnight parking enforcement program, and a senior center; some of those programs are not offered by other nearby jurisdictions.
The council asked for more information about how the city's services compare to similar cities. This data could be used for council goal-setting and in times when the city budget is leaner to make decisions about what might have to be cut, Mueller said.
The council also pushed back against a budget proposal to hire 4.75 net new full-time employees, especially the proposal to hire one full-time employee to work on an effort to improve financial transparency in the city and help roll out new finance and budget software, as well as 3.25 new library staff members to help keep the Belle Haven Library open for more hours.
The proposed budget also includes plans to hire a park ranger at Bedwell Bayfront Park, which Facebook would pay for as an agreement term with the city, and a new provisional senior civil engineer and an equipment mechanic.
"I'm not sure we need to add (full-time employees) to achieve what we're trying to accomplish," Mueller said.
The library has been hosting many more programs lately, Councilwoman Betsy Nash said, adding that she would prefer to see the library open more hours than to have more programs.
The Police Department has also requested a $450,00 mobile command center, which Police Chief Dave Bertini said could be customized with equipment to respond to Menlo Park-specific emergencies, like incidents at SRI International or Facebook. He noted that the center could be customized for Menlo Park only if it is owned by the city, rather than borrowed from another jurisdiction. He said the department plans to pay for it with Supplemental Law Enforcement Services funding.
And while the proposed budget has some information about tax revenue generated by district, there's no information about city spending by district. Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor she wanted to see more investment in District 1, which includes the Belle Haven neighbood, east of US 101.
This story contains 785 words.
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