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Budgets Are an Expression of Values

Original post made by Jen Wolosin, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks, on Apr 28, 2020

COVID-19 has hit the economy in catastrophic ways and left us with extraordinary uncertainties. While we are still in the early stages of the crisis, it is clear that our city council will face tough choices in the months to come. The City of Menlo Park anticipates a $20.7 million decrease in revenues over a 16-month period (March 2020 through June 2021). For the upcoming 20/21 fiscal year alone, the city’s most likely General Fund scenario forecasts a $12.69 revenue decrease. For a city with annual General Fund revenues of approximately $70 million, the hit to the budget is huge.

Tonight (4/28), the Menlo Park City Council will discuss how to begin to address the massive projected revenue shortfall. The choices it makes in the coming months will define who we are as a city and a community. Now is the time for Menlo Park to ask ourselves a series of values-based questions: What is worth saving? Which needs should come first, and which can be deferred? Who belongs in Menlo Park?

The Menlo Park City Council already signaled the importance of supporting our community’s most vulnerable by designating over $100,000 for COVID-19 relief via Samaritan House. Nearby cities are taking similar action. Burlingame recently approved up to $1 million on programs to help residents, businesses, and nonprofits, including $500,000 for local businesses, $250,000 for struggling families, and another $250,000 for local service providers. If Menlo Park wants to preserve the long-term stability of our small business community and prevent our most vulnerable residents from falling through the cracks, we probably will need to follow suit. Efforts to increase assistance to those in need will require additional funding at a time when cities are looking for ways to cut costs, not add them.

To address the projected $12.69 million revenue shortfall in FY 20/21, Menlo Park city staff is recommending cuts to personnel, operating expenses, and capital projects. The staff report also suggests dipping further into the city’s Economic Stabilization Fund, which was created for use in emergencies and disasters. These are painful but important steps. But providing a critical lifeline to small businesses and community members, as mentioned above, would require Menlo Park to save or reallocate even more money. Deferring some of the less essential big-ticket projects currently in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)–many of which were conceived in a time of comparative prosperity–could free up the necessary funds. A total of 73 funded projects will be reviewed tonight (Web Link).

Budgets are an expression of values. Menlo Park belongs to all of us, and it’s essential that all of us share our thoughts on what matters and how our collective money should be spent and saved. While cuts are unavoidable, the criteria used to make them, and the extent to which they are made, is a policy matter to be determined by our city council.

What values and priorities do you want to share with our city council? Please write an email to [email protected] to express your thoughts–or tune in and make a virtual comment tonight (4/28). The agenda, staff report, and details about how to watch and participate can be found here: Web Link

Comments (1)

7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 28, 2020 at 10:55 am

Jen is so right!

Budgets are an expression of values.

For example, why is the City of Menlo Park not following the Best Practices of its neighboring communities?

Both Palo Alto and Atherton have an extensive network of FREE Emergency Service Volunteers making sure that their neighbors are ok and providing them with assistance.

Menlo Park, even though it is projecting a huge budget deficit, is instead using a very few PAID staff to do welfare checks for a much smaller number of its citizens:

""Community members who would like to refer a vulnerable neighbor, or family members wanting to sign up a loved one, can request a wellness check online. City staff, who are background checked and supervised, will be able to connect those referred with various City, county, and nonprofit resources available to them and will check on them weekly until the stay-at-home order is lifted." "

If Menlo Park staff were called upon to do welfare checks for the same percentage of its citizens as Palo Alto and Atherton are doing with their ESV's the Menlo Park staff system would collapse.

So what is the difference? Palo Alto and Atherton local governments are Citizens Centric while Menlo Park's government is Staff Centric. That is a BIG difference in the values reflected in their respective budgets.


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