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In the face of crisis why are local governments unwiling to change

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood, on Jun 21, 2010

For Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and communities all over California this is the month in which they must adopt a budget for the FY 2010/11 that starts on 1 July. There is little doubt that revenues from all sources are down and little hope that those revenues will increase any time soon. Yet expenses continue to climb. And because of new financial accounting rules the dirty little secret of unfunded pension liabilities is no longer a secret.

Yet in spite of all these factors when you look at the budgets which the Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton Councils are getting ready to approve there is literally no significant change from prior years - it is business as usual. All of these cities are simply trimming a bit here and tweaking a bit there but none of them are stepping back and even attempting to make the fundamental structural changes that might give them a chance to have balanced budgets for both next year and for the longer term. None of these cities are looking at consolidation of services with each other or with other jurisdictions. Police consolidation alone could save millions of dollar both next year and every year thereafter - and Palo Alto probably wouldn't need a new police station. If Palo Alto were to consolidate its fire services with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District then both entities would save millions. Why not have shared services for purchasing, human resources and public works with one of the entities taking the lead on each.

How can we citizens convince our elected officials that we are in a financial crisis and that business as usual simply won't work? How do we convince them to do a zero based budget where there are no pet projects and the only things which get funded are the things which are essential. How do we convince them that continuing to amass deficits (particularly when you add in unfunded pension liabilities) is irresponsible?

Do the citizen even care?

Comments (9)

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Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Maybe ABAG and the city managers and the unions are just trying to blow off the facts.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 21, 2010 at 3:08 pm

With respect to the Chinese and Rahm Emanuel, crisis = opportunity.

I would hope that our elected officials would use the current budget crisis in their cities and towns to implement some significant changes. Consolidating police and fire services, perhaps with their respective Sheriff's departments, would be a good start. There are certainly economies of scale to be realized with dispatch, jail, maintenance, management and coverage.

San Carlos recently reported the outsourcing of landscaping services to a private firm and a savings of nearly $500,000 a year.
Web Link We can no longer afford the luxuries" of our own building and planning staffs, fire departments, police forces and landscape teams.

Innovative municipalities will thrive, others will fail - and it will be the citizens and property owners who will be left with the bill.

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Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 21, 2010 at 11:33 pm

What Peter proposes makes sense. Unfortunately, most government at all levels seems to be inefficient. All some people do is complain about their elected officials. Yet, they are the ones who keep returning the same type of people to office. We need a change.

Local government officials need to set aside their pride and egos to look at the bigger picture. Regardless of the times, shared or consolidated services makes sense. In San Mateo County alone there are 15+ police departments, 15+ fire departments, 15+ school districts, etc. This is too many jurisdictions for the geographic size of this county.

I challenge citizens to be pro-active and lobby your leaders to do more than study the possibilities. This has been done several times -- even by the Grand Jury. I also challenge local media to strongly promote this idea. It's not a new concept; it has been done in many other places.

After all, the money that could be saved is ultimately ours!

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 22, 2010 at 7:27 am

The problem will continue since the majority membership of the Menlo Park city council is owned by the Unions and labor accounts for more than 70% of the City's budget. So more money is going for salaries and less for services. This is the perfect storm.

Ironically these council members hold diplomas from such fine universities as Stanford and Princeton and yet they don't have one soupçon of common sense. These council members, with such fine academic pedigrees, would not even last a year as first level managers in any for profit company in Silicon Valley.

They would be dismissed for cause due to a lack of analytical skills, inefficiency, indecisiveness, lack of focus, wasting the company's hard earned money and last but certainly not least for not listening to their bosses. The only place they can go is public service or private companies dependent on Government contracts where, unfortunately, there is no accountability to the bottom line.

The city council, with the exception of John Boyle, has long forgotten that it is supposed to be an advocate for the residents and businesses of Menlo Park. This council, repeatedly, has worked for the Unions and against our interests and the very least we can do is retire Heyward Robinson and Richard Cline this November for dereliction of duty.

I am fed up with these dilettantes and so are most of the residents of Menlo Park. Now please get out and vote. Being upset and not voicing your discontentment at the ballot box will only embolden these feckless fools and they will continue to work against you and line the pockets of the Unions.

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Why do you limit the question by P. Carpenter to Menlo Park's Unions?
Also, what unions do you pinpoint since I cannot imagine that much influence given the population with that 70% which is owned by the council? Other than that, is sounds too pat and a bit farfetched being the problems Peter speaks of are far deeper and do not show Menlo Park as a power house leader among the other cities.
Unions powers lie only in their members obligated to work and think alike, and in these times, I don't understand or see your rationale.
Peter quite rightfully refers to the seeming lack of leadership or candidates who have any kind of charisma or agendas for change apart from day to day affairs.
In the last 10 years, I have seen a lethargic group of council members in every city in this area, and people who do push forward and advance are mostly self promoting and that is all they seem to care about. There is no enthusiansm to think about the future and, frankly, all of these towns come off lazy, and greedy and that is why there is such a lack of entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
Again, what Unions are you referring to and what are their numbers?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 23, 2010 at 10:43 am

Here is one community that has really had to bite the budget bullet:

LA Times

Cities: Maywood to hire others to run the city -

Maywood, a small working-class community south of downtown Los Angeles, plans to lay off all its employees, disband its Police Department and turn over its entire municipal operations to a neighbor — an action that appears to be without precedent among California cities.

Several cities in the state have said that they are close to bankruptcy because of the sharp drop in sales and property tax revenues caused by the deepest recession in decades. But experts who track California cities say Maywood is the only case they know of in which a city has dismissed all top positions except for the city manager, city attorney and elected officials. Under the plan adopted by the City Council on Monday night, council members would continue to be paid to set policy, but all services would be contracted out.

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Good riddance to public sector parasites!

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm

It in not fair or even appropriate to call public workers "parasites." They are dedicated employees who try to be helpful to citizens.

Unfortunately, their compensation, especially their pensions, have grown disproportionately to the rest of the economy. It is not entirely their fault. Elected officials, who have agreed to every one of these changes, are as culpable as union bosses.

Who among us would refuse pay increases or better benefits? No one, of course.

Unfortunately, we cannot continue with the status quo... it is no longer sustainable and must be corrected. The current proposed changes are actually pretty modest.

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2010 at 11:59 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

This area is doomed to go the "MAYWOOD WAY" because most people have no people in mind to elect or even smart enough to represent the divided community.
The major problem is that most people are unwilling to admit there is a major problem.
Ours is turning into a working class community and that just sends chills up people's spines because of the truth of it.
Let's just blame it on what history books said about the Great Depression........"IT WAS OVERSPECULATION".......and now the people who were very rich are no longer able to admit it.

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