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Menlo Park's adopted budget cuts 'to the bone'

Facing the fallout of COVID-19, the city estimates a yearlong surplus of only $1

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Menlo Park City Hall. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

With a planned surplus of only $1, the Menlo Park City Council voted Tuesday night, June 23, to finalize an unprecedentedly lean budget to start off the new fiscal year on July 1.

The budget, which the council deliberated over through the course of 10 meetings since April, will yet likely need more revisions in the months to come, said City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson.

With so much in the air about what revenues the city may be taking in in the coming year, as well as what services the city will be permitted to provide and under what circumstances, there are still a lot of unknowns, she acknowledged. She said she anticipated regular check-ins with the council to make modifications to the budget as the 2020-21 fiscal year progresses.

In the budget adopted June 23, the city dipped into its reserves by $390,000 and cut overall staffing by 15%, or the full-time equivalent of 43.5 workers. Overall, the budget cuts are resulting in a loss of 16 regular and more than 50 temporary staff members, according to Jerome Robinson.

Across all city funds, the city plans to bring in $137.92 million in revenue and spend $126.12 million. The $11.8 million surplus all resides in restricted funds that can't be spent for other purposes, explained Assistant Administrative Services Director Dan Jacobson in a staff report. In its operating budget, the city aims to bring in $56.43 million in general fund and other revenue and spend $56.43 million.

The new budget cuts merged the Community Services and Library departments, which are now led by Sean Reinhart, who was promoted to lead Community Services in addition to being Library Services Director. Derek Schweigart, who until recently was Community Services Director, was laid off immediately, according to city staff.

The new budget also cuts $2.46 million from the Police Department. These cuts resulted in the layoffs of six sworn police officers and the elimination of the city's traffic unit, proactive gang and narcotics investigations and daytime parking enforcement. The number of full-time staff members in the police department will fall from 76.5 to 61.5, according to the city's online budget.

In addition, the council voted to cancel an order for a mobile command center, set to cost about $450,000, that it had approved back in November. It was partially grant-funded, but the city is expected to get about $319,000 back for its general fund, according to Councilwoman Betsy Nash.

The council also opted to keep several programs that had been threatened in previous budget discussions. The city will treat the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center and Onetta Harris Community Center equally, with services being opened up on equal terms whenever the city can get the green light to do so safely. The city won't withdraw from the Peninsula Library System after all.

At a protest held in Belle Haven last week, however, it was clear that because of the overall staffing cuts, which hit temporary and part-time workers, the Menlo Park Senior Center and Onetta Harris facilities will be losing staff members. Both facilities remain closed for now for public health reasons. The new adopted budget cuts the city's library and community services department to 59 full-time employees, from 71.

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The city will also keep and reopen its child care programs at the Menlo Children's Center at the Burgess Park campus and the Belle Haven Child Development Center as soon as possible, with a $500 per month tuition increase at the Menlo Children's Center. The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to also send a letter to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors asking for support and consideration of an idea to use the city's child care centers as teaching centers for early childhood educators in the county.

In negotiations leading up to finalizing the budget, two of the city's labor bargaining units, the AFSCME and SEIU units representing municipal employees and service workers, respectively – agreed to defer their contractually promised cost of living adjustments and freeze the increase in the city's cost share rates for its pension contributions through the CalPERS system.

The city's police-related bargaining units, the Police Officers Association and the Police Sergeants Association, did not negotiate and kept their promised raises. Starting July 5, police recruits, officers and corporals will receive a raise of 3.5% and police sergeants a raise of 4.41%, according to a staff report.

One of the lengthy discussion points the council worked through Tuesday night was whether to set aside an additional $1 million in reserve funding to help smooth over some of the deep cuts and acknowledge future needs, as proposed by Councilman Ray Mueller. "We've really cut to the bone on this budget," he said.

He said he envisioned those funds going toward things the city will need to tackle in the coming year: exploring whatever policy ideas come from expected discussions about race and social equity in the coming months, adopting to-be-determined changes to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing the work of creating a new climate action plan and starting the work of updating the city's housing element, as it is required to do.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she wanted to see that additional amount be smaller, because it felt "awkward" to set aside that amount now, after the council had been so unwilling to dip into its reserves throughout the budgeting process. A majority of council members voted the idea down, with Carlton, Nash and Mayor Cecilia Taylor opposed.

Access the budget online here.

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Menlo Park's adopted budget cuts 'to the bone'

Facing the fallout of COVID-19, the city estimates a yearlong surplus of only $1

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 24, 2020, 11:41 am

With a planned surplus of only $1, the Menlo Park City Council voted Tuesday night, June 23, to finalize an unprecedentedly lean budget to start off the new fiscal year on July 1.

The budget, which the council deliberated over through the course of 10 meetings since April, will yet likely need more revisions in the months to come, said City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson.

With so much in the air about what revenues the city may be taking in in the coming year, as well as what services the city will be permitted to provide and under what circumstances, there are still a lot of unknowns, she acknowledged. She said she anticipated regular check-ins with the council to make modifications to the budget as the 2020-21 fiscal year progresses.

In the budget adopted June 23, the city dipped into its reserves by $390,000 and cut overall staffing by 15%, or the full-time equivalent of 43.5 workers. Overall, the budget cuts are resulting in a loss of 16 regular and more than 50 temporary staff members, according to Jerome Robinson.

Across all city funds, the city plans to bring in $137.92 million in revenue and spend $126.12 million. The $11.8 million surplus all resides in restricted funds that can't be spent for other purposes, explained Assistant Administrative Services Director Dan Jacobson in a staff report. In its operating budget, the city aims to bring in $56.43 million in general fund and other revenue and spend $56.43 million.

The new budget cuts merged the Community Services and Library departments, which are now led by Sean Reinhart, who was promoted to lead Community Services in addition to being Library Services Director. Derek Schweigart, who until recently was Community Services Director, was laid off immediately, according to city staff.

The new budget also cuts $2.46 million from the Police Department. These cuts resulted in the layoffs of six sworn police officers and the elimination of the city's traffic unit, proactive gang and narcotics investigations and daytime parking enforcement. The number of full-time staff members in the police department will fall from 76.5 to 61.5, according to the city's online budget.

In addition, the council voted to cancel an order for a mobile command center, set to cost about $450,000, that it had approved back in November. It was partially grant-funded, but the city is expected to get about $319,000 back for its general fund, according to Councilwoman Betsy Nash.

The council also opted to keep several programs that had been threatened in previous budget discussions. The city will treat the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center and Onetta Harris Community Center equally, with services being opened up on equal terms whenever the city can get the green light to do so safely. The city won't withdraw from the Peninsula Library System after all.

At a protest held in Belle Haven last week, however, it was clear that because of the overall staffing cuts, which hit temporary and part-time workers, the Menlo Park Senior Center and Onetta Harris facilities will be losing staff members. Both facilities remain closed for now for public health reasons. The new adopted budget cuts the city's library and community services department to 59 full-time employees, from 71.

The city will also keep and reopen its child care programs at the Menlo Children's Center at the Burgess Park campus and the Belle Haven Child Development Center as soon as possible, with a $500 per month tuition increase at the Menlo Children's Center. The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to also send a letter to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors asking for support and consideration of an idea to use the city's child care centers as teaching centers for early childhood educators in the county.

In negotiations leading up to finalizing the budget, two of the city's labor bargaining units, the AFSCME and SEIU units representing municipal employees and service workers, respectively – agreed to defer their contractually promised cost of living adjustments and freeze the increase in the city's cost share rates for its pension contributions through the CalPERS system.

The city's police-related bargaining units, the Police Officers Association and the Police Sergeants Association, did not negotiate and kept their promised raises. Starting July 5, police recruits, officers and corporals will receive a raise of 3.5% and police sergeants a raise of 4.41%, according to a staff report.

One of the lengthy discussion points the council worked through Tuesday night was whether to set aside an additional $1 million in reserve funding to help smooth over some of the deep cuts and acknowledge future needs, as proposed by Councilman Ray Mueller. "We've really cut to the bone on this budget," he said.

He said he envisioned those funds going toward things the city will need to tackle in the coming year: exploring whatever policy ideas come from expected discussions about race and social equity in the coming months, adopting to-be-determined changes to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing the work of creating a new climate action plan and starting the work of updating the city's housing element, as it is required to do.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she wanted to see that additional amount be smaller, because it felt "awkward" to set aside that amount now, after the council had been so unwilling to dip into its reserves throughout the budgeting process. A majority of council members voted the idea down, with Carlton, Nash and Mayor Cecilia Taylor opposed.

Access the budget online here.

Comments

Adriana Gervasio
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 24, 2020 at 12:46 pm
Adriana Gervasio , Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 24, 2020 at 12:46 pm
1 person likes this

I am worried about cutting funds to proactive narcotics and gang investigations. And the traffic unit. This is maddening. Instead you should cut in half the salary to those who are just sitting in the office and do nothing. Like yourself and other CEO


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 24, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 24, 2020 at 12:56 pm
8 people like this

Sadly this exercise will have to be repeated every three months as the city discovers that the projected revenues will simply not be forthcoming.

What is needed is a much harder zero base budget review that asks what do we absolutely need and are sure we can afford rather than what can we cut hoping our evenues will bounce back.


MP Resident
Menlo Park: other
on Jun 24, 2020 at 1:55 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: other
on Jun 24, 2020 at 1:55 pm
5 people like this

Peter: what is more sad is the lack of discussion to defund the police and apply it to the budget discussion to divest that money into community services that are much needed, especially in COVID times. Their unwillingness to look at other sources of revenue or use reserves for specific programs is an embarrassment! More insulting: City Manager wants to use funds for training instead of bringing back services to the community! She should join Bertini. And while we are on the top heavy management subject: why is this just now being discussed? It should have been their first move to slim down unrepresented upper management.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:01 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:01 pm
9 people like this

"what is more sad is the lack of discussion to defund the police and apply it to the budget discussion to divest that money into community services that are much needed, especially in COVID times. "

That is why zero based budgeting is essential - EVERY city function needs to be evaluated on its own merits starting from zero, not starting from their current funding level.

Zero based budgeting defunds everything including top management and foces each function to justify a new, affordable, fundable budget.


Jim
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:09 pm
Jim, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:09 pm
4 people like this

Didn't the City eliminate one department director position and combine it with another department. I am pretty certain there was a position eliminated in senior management as well. Is anyone checking these facts before making statements about what happened?


Resident
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 24, 2020 at 6:58 pm
Resident , Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 24, 2020 at 6:58 pm
6 people like this

I was pleasantly surprised to see the police cuts. We have such a huge police force for the size of our city, and with that mobile command center... it just seemed unconscionable to keep those things and cut the childcare centers, for example. Grateful the council did the right thing, though I fear we will have to revisit this exercise sooner than we’d like.


Martin
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 24, 2020 at 9:22 pm
Martin, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 24, 2020 at 9:22 pm
3 people like this

I'm shocked that a 15% staff cut is 43.5 FTEs! This means we still have 247 FTEs even after these "cuts to the bone". What are all these people working on for our small town, especially now excluding the (presumably at least self-financing) traffic and parking patrols? Maybe we should look at merging with Atherton or Portola Valley, surely there are huge economies of scale in "running" a peninsula town.


Uhiasiam
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2020 at 9:03 am
Uhiasiam, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2020 at 9:03 am
2 people like this

The city is run by Fools. They squandered away the city's money and left citizens looking for answers as to why Crime on the rise all over town!


Reality
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2020 at 9:31 am
Reality, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2020 at 9:31 am
10 people like this

Budget cuts aren’t even in effect yet and crime is on the rise as a result of them? Yeah that’s believable.


Jeff Leroux
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 25, 2020 at 12:53 pm
Jeff Leroux, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 25, 2020 at 12:53 pm
19 people like this

The city - like any other "enterprise" must adapt and evolve. Industries and businesses (large and small) are forced to completely eliminate specific functions due to technology and changing societal expectations. Enterprises create and eliminate functions & entire departments at a breath taking pace these days. City government should be no different.

The MPPD only does what the elected politicians want them to do. If you are unhappy with the MPPD then fire your politicians. To sit and listen to politicians lament police behavior at recent meetings... the whole time they are the ones who control the police - is laughable.

Next time you are the victim of a home invasion, armed robbery, vandalism, shooting et al, I ask you to handle it yourself and see how well you do. If you are going to ask brave young men and women to risk their own lives by rushing to your defense then think in positive terms of how the MPPD and the overall city operations have to evolve to meet the needs of citizens. Stop attacking people - including those first responders who protect us all.

If we want more community services - which are critically important to the long term prevention of crime - then we should "invest" in those services as a community. If you want to have trained individuals ready to respond to fires, car accidents, violent and dangerous crime, then those are worthy investments as well. It is not one or the other. It is a balance. In a nation overrun with guns, drugs, social inequities and violence, it is easy to say "defund" or demilitarize the police when criminals (and citizens) have weapons of war at the ready.

Black lives matter. We honor that commitment with the proper level of engagement, community support and financial resources to ensure we have policing that meets our standards. If that means we have to invest in more pay, better training, advanced resources - regardless of department, then let's commit to the type of city we want.

Invest in the police and provide them with the tools, resources and training they need to accomplish the tasks we assign them. Make sure they have the ability to perform their duties as we want them to. Expect no less and no more than what we ask of them and enable them to do.

Demanding perfection while restricting resources in a world of hyper sensitive political correctness is a recipe for increasing the isolation of police and making the problems they too want fixed, even worse.


Just the Facts
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:31 pm
Just the Facts, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:31 pm
12 people like this

"Demanding perfection while restricting resources in a world of hyper sensitive political correctness is a recipe for increasing the isolation of police and making the problems they too want fixed, even worse."

Best refutation of the defund the police movement I have heard yet.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:49 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:49 pm
6 people like this

Demanding restructuring of public safety services and reallocating resources in a world of hyper sensitive political correctness is a recipe for improving both the quality of those services and reducing their total costs.


Jeff Leroux
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:04 pm
Jeff Leroux, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:04 pm
Like this comment

@Peter Carpenter. Thank you for using your name in your posts. That shows character and integrity. It gives your statements real credibility and facilitates respectful debate.

I agree with demanding perfection. We differ only as to the price tag for perfect policing.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:11 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:11 pm
4 people like this

Jeff - I am not and would not demand perfection as perfection is always too expensive.

What I am asking for is a restructuring of public safety services and reallocating resources in a more cost effective manner. Many public safety services do not require a very expensive "badge and a gun".


Menlo Voter.
Menlo Park: other
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:50 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:50 am
2 people like this

If this is "cutting to the bone" what was it in 2008/09?


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
21 hours ago
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
21 hours ago
2 people like this

"CEOs from 500 of America's biggest companies were surveyed in the last two weeks of April 2020. While they were asked a few dozen questions, everything can be boiled down to, "how are you/we dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?"

Of the CEOs interviewed, only 27% expect their workers to return to their offices in full this year. Some of the most stunning responses and insights revolve around economic and technological activities. More than half of responders believe 2022 will be the first time we see economic activity return to pre-pandemic levels. Another quarter don't think we'll get there until 2023."

*******
The city revenue shortfall will be greater and longer than currently assumed. The council needs to quit its piecemeal approach to restructuring the city's budget. It is time for zero base budgeting,


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