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Should Menlo Park drop the new tax because of the $3.5 million budget surplus?

Original post made by Richard Hine on Jan 21, 2007

Menlo Park City Councilman John Boyle is pushing for a public discussion and re-evaluation of the city's plan to enact, in April, the voter-approved utility users' tax at the maximum rate allowed. Click here to read the Almanac story: Web Link

What do you think? Click the "Add a comment" link below to post your comments.


Comments (11)

Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 21, 2007 at 11:25 pm

Of all of the things that the council spends time discussing until 1am, I find it shocking that the mayor is unwilling to have a discussion about the UUT tax rate.

Everyone promised that the UUT was a temporary tax to bridge us until our revenues picked up again. Now we learn that sales taxes are up, property taxes are up, and we have a $3.7M surplus. Of course there should be a public discussion about whether or not we still need this tax.

If some council members still support taxing us at the maximum rate, they should be explaining to us why they want the money and how they plan to spend it.


Posted by Scott, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 22, 2007 at 5:10 pm

We need a public discussion of this tax. This is a good government/ethics question. A tax was enacted for a projected deficit. The deficit did not materialize. The tax should be recinded. Any other use of this public money, especially without some public debate is unethical.

This is a good chance for the new council and the new mayor to do the right thing. Afterall, this is what we elected them for. We should also credit the prior leadership with setting good fiscal policy that gave us this surplus and challenge the current council to do the same.

I am afraid that the SEIU will look at this surplus and new revenue from the tax money and take it into consideration when they renegotiate thier contract. If we keep the tax on the books at a 0% rate - basically not enforcing it - then the city won't have money to go after.


Posted by new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 23, 2007 at 7:05 am

Discussion you say? What is there to discuss? Does it really matter that we were lied to? (read: not told the whole truth, which is a lie.) The tax passed, now the powers that be want to know how much they can get. Simple as that.

Even if they agree to change the rate to 0 in the future, they still want to try the max to see what it would bring in. This is so that they will know how much its worth and be able to factor that in when raise, pension time comes. This is why there will be no discussion other that to state that they want to "try it".

There is always something to spend money on.


Posted by roxie, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 25, 2007 at 1:49 am

The utility tax has to be re-evaluated by the City Council every two years anyway. I think we should just keep the tax that was approved by the voters and in two years if the money is not needed the council can rescind it. The new city manager will likely be better at the budgeting process.

I would like to concentrate on solving the city's current problems and planning for the future and making instead of boring UUT debates.


Posted by Fix the Process, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 25, 2007 at 7:32 am

Roxie, The voters approved a tax UP TO a certain rate. Because the council members who now sit on the council indicated that they were committed to a more open process than what the old council majority was committed to, many of us assumed that the new council would welcome public comment on the issue -- particularly in light of the new financial information coming out of city hall. The old council majority was rejected by the voters because they left the public out of the process too often. This council will do the same at its own peril.


Posted by Outraged, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2007 at 9:55 am

Roxie,

Are you kidding me with your comment:
"I think we should just keep the tax that was approved by the voters and in two years if the money is not needed the council can rescind it."

If it ends up that the money is truly not needed, is my money going to be refunded to me, plus interest? I don't think so. And guess what - that huge "reserve fund" the city has socked away - to me that's money that the city truly doesn't need and it SHOULD be returned to us taxpayers - or at least used in place of a UUT.

And as far as your other statement:
"I would like to concentrate on solving the city's current problems and planning for the future and making instead of boring UUT debates."

I guess you have money to burn. Lucky you. So how about this: you pay my UUT and I'll drop the issue. Deal?

Unfortunately, your attitude mirrors that of our new "tax and spend" Mayor who, at this rate, will be shown the door by voters in two years with a popularity equal to our current President.


Posted by juswondering, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2007 at 7:41 pm

DID YOU GET YOUR P.G.E. UTILITY BILL THIS MONTH?
DID YOU GET YOUR COMCAST BILL THIS MONTH?
DID YOU GET YOUR CAL WATER/MENLO WATER BILL THIS MONTH?
DID YOU GET YOUR PHONE BILL THIS MONTH?
DID I FORGET ANY? CELLULAR?
ADD ALL THOSE UP, MULTIPLY BY 3% FOR THE NEW UUT, AND OPEN UP YOUR WALLET SOME MORE!!
THEN, LOOK AT YOUR PROPERTY TAX BILL, SEE HOW IT'S ESCALATED DUE TO PROP. 13 EXEMPT PARCEL TAXES/ASSESSMENTS FOR THE VARIOUS SCHOOLS (SENIORS EXEMPTED!), THIS AND THAT OTHER ASSESSMENT.
THINK ABOUT A PROJECTED BUDGET SURPLUS, PLUS A $20 MILLION RESERVE THAT THE CITY DOESN'T WANT TO DIP INTO TO COVER YEAR TO YEAR SHORTFALLS. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO "ZERO BASED BUDGETING" INSTEAD OF STANDARD PERCENTAGE INCREASES OVER PRIOR FISCAL YEAR PER CITY DEPT.?
THIS IS TRULY AN UNJUST, REGRESSIVE TAX THAT OUR NEW MAYOR WILL SURELY POINT TO AS WHY SHE WOULDN'T STAND FOR RE-ELECTION IN 2 YEARS.
VOTERS WILL VOTE THEIR WALLETS AND WELL REMEMBER WHO WAS MAYOR WHEN THIS OVERTAX WAS INSTITUTED.
BETTER TO EASE IT IN INCREMENTALLY AND MAX IT TO FULL TARIFF WHEN IT'S REALLY NEEDED, IF EVER.


Posted by Roxie, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 27, 2007 at 2:38 am

Dear Juswondering and Outraged,


It isn't that I have money to burn, but I would rather pay a tax than be afraid and ashamed of the city I live in. Last year I filled out the city's budget survey and attended a budget workshop. We were told that either the city needs more revenue or the city needed to make drastic cuts, for example turning off street lights, reducing the police force, eliminating city support for the Boys and Girls club, cancelling city events like the July 4th celebration in the park, raising fees and reducing almost all of the need-based programs in Menlo Park. Everyone at my table agreed we would rather pay a tax instead of the Scrooge-like and risky cuts that the city had offered as alternatives.

At the time I wondered if the city really needed more money, or could just spend some of the reserves until property and sales tax revenues caught up with the spending. If the city will do this then that is great. In the meantime, being involved in a traffic accident because of lack of police, or being the victim of some crime, or reading about young people in our community killed by gang violence while the Boys and Girls club and afterschool childcare programs are cut back, is far worse, for me, than having to pay the utility tax.

If you can convice the city that we can loosen the fist on reserve funds and pay for city services without needing the utility tax, then more power to you. Otherwise, given the choices offered, I would rather pay the tax.


Posted by Ignorance isn't Bliss, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 28, 2007 at 11:35 pm

So, the same folks who told us we had a riproaring deficit now assure us that we're solidly in the black. Given their apparently shaky grasp on principles of accounting, can we trust anything they say?

Since the voters approved the tax, I hope that someone in the city with a modicum of initiative and brains (if such a person exists) uses it to sort out city finances.

Menlo Park isn't exactly a big city. It shouldn't be such a challenge to handle the bookkeeping.


Posted by Outraged, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2007 at 12:06 am

Roxie: "If you can convice the city that we can loosen the fist on reserve funds and pay for city services without needing the utility tax, then more power to you."

You got it wrong, Roxie: It is the CITY that should be trying to convince US that we actually need the UUT: Based on their John Kerry-like "flip-flop" on the alledged budget deficit, along with our bloated reserve fund (which is just a "slush fund" of excess taxes that you and I have over-paid over the years), they've failed miserably to make their case.

And believe you me, Roxie, they're NOT going to cut basic health and safety services like the police if they ever do actually need to cut - that's just the usual fear tactit they put out there to get you to go along with the tax in the first place.


Posted by Ship of fools, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 29, 2007 at 10:05 am

Deficit spending is not a good idea. Running a structural deficit that's shored up by a finite amount of savings is not a good idea.

Or, to put it in terms "Just Wondering" can understand: IT'S NOT A GOOD IDEA!

On the other hand, it's also not a good idea to ram through a tax when you've got tons of counterintuitive and conflicting information coming out about the city's finances.

Excess reserve funds should be used to pay for one-time costs, such as capital improvement projects. Or possibly, to hire a head-hunting firm to find a decent city finance director.

PS to Outraged: Stop watching Fox News. Bashing John Kerry is so passe.


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