BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller said last night (May 19) that he was getting “heartburn” because the city’s unions did not want to give up scheduled pay raises, putting the council in the position of cutting individual positions.
Mueller said that he thought, based on the tradition of organized labor, that when times are hard, members banded together to protect everyone in the union.
“But what is being presented is, ‘I’m going to get mine and someone is going to lose their job,'” Mueller said at last night’s meeting.
The council has to make $12.4 million in cuts, the most that the city has ever had to face, according to Mueller.
Complicating matters is that the city previously agreed to pay raises that go into effect on July 1 that will raise the payroll by $2 million.
Council wants the unions to give up the raise due to the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus shutdown.
If the unions don’t give up the raise, the city will have to make more layoffs than the 46 full-time and 48 part-time positions now on the chopping block.
Mueller and councilwoman Catherine Carlton both expressed disappointment with the unions for not cooperating with the city.
Union sees money council can tap
In a letter to council, AFSCME Local 829 representative Ashley Mates says it is “unjustifiable” for the city to consider layoffs when it has an unrestricted fund balance of $42.43 million, which is money that is not committed to be spent in a specific way.
Mates’ letter also asks the city find ways to avoid layoffs and suggests that the city may get money from the $3 trillion HEROES Act written by House Democrats. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House on Friday and has gone to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it’s unlikely to even get a floor vote.
However, the council moved forward last night with recommending cuts that City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson is to make while compiling the city’s budget.
Some of those cuts included elimnating the police traffic unit and reducing patrol officers, saving the city $2.6 million and result in eight officers being fired.
The council also decided to reduce library hours at both the Burgess Park library and the Belle Haven library by 25%. This will result in 27 layoffs and a savings of $322,000.
Child care centers survive
The big-ticket item that the council decided not to cut last night is the two child care centers in the city — Menlo Children’s Center in Burgess Park and the Belle Haven Child Development Center at 410 Ivy Drive. Together, they cost the city $3 million a year.
Councilwoman Betsy Nash suggested that Community Services Director Derek Schwiegert take a look at ways to increase revenues, such as trying to get additional funding from the county. Nash noted that county Supervisors Carole Groom and Dave Pine wrote to council requesting the child care centers be saved. So Nash reasoned that they might provide some county funds to keep those centers open.
Nash also suggested increasing fees for the Menlo Children’s Center, saying that the city should not subsidize child care.
Councilwoman Catherine Carlton responded that there are struggling families throughout Menlo Park, and not just in Belle Haven.
Nash had previously suggested that the center raise its fees and use a sliding scale in determining how much a family ought to pay for child care.
The council ultimately told Schwiegert to look into raising the fees at the center and not close either facility.
I wanted to comment to give a more complete picture of what wasn’t said last evening about the unions willingness to work with the City. AFSCME is prepared to work with the city to find the best solutions to close the budget deficit. A couple of facts to begin – The 12 million budget deficit is a worse case estimate. In the last few days Govenor Newsom has spoken about moving from phase 2 into phase 3 in a matter of weeks. Secondly, AFSCME had their professional labor economist do an analysis on the Menlo Park’s finances and determined that the City is an excellent financial shape. The City has over 42 million dollars in unrestricted funds that could be used to close the deficit. The council has chosen not to use these funds to close the deficit Instead they have chosen to cut services and lay-off staff.
In the offer to the union the city still had layoffs as well as a pay cut and no guarantee that additional layoffs would not take place. The union
Their is still an amazing opportunity for all parties to find creative solutions using the funds available to the city that would avoid layoffs and service cuts. I believe that Menlo Park should continue to be an innovator and show excellent leadership to the residents, staff and other cities on the peninsula.
Ray Mueller makes it seems like it was the union that is causing these potential lay-offs when in fact the proposal to unions included layoffs. Pay increases were NOT the reason unions did not agree to said terms but rather the lack of assurance of avoiding layoffs. The unions want to work with council to avoid layoffs! Conveniently overlooked were the almost 43 million in unrestricted and unassigned funds that could save most service and staff cuts.
The City Council seems to believe that the rank and file should make all the sacrifices. Why are 46 union staff on the chopping block and NO ONE in the City Manager’s office is in peril? Menlo Park has a Director and Assistant Director for virtually every department. There is a City Manager, Assistant City Manager and Deputy City Manager. Why? These folks are protected by the inner circle so they would never recommend layoffs of themselves. The City Manager’s office has generously taken away their own non-guaranteed bonuses and froze two open positions. That saves about 400K. They are asking the rank and file to contribute $1.2 million by opening the contract and giving back their increase. In the good times how many times was the City willing to open the contract and reward the rank and file with a pay increase?
The Palo Alto City Manager volunteered a 20% pay cut to help offset the budget issue there.
How did the City of Menlo Park come to have $14 million in an emergency fund and $42 million in the reserve? It wasn’t magic. It was the hard work of the staff who they now are asking to fund the deficit or else they will be laid off.
Has the City offered no layoffs in exchange for concessions? Or do they prefer to still have that hammer so they can demand more?
Has the City Council volunteered to return or refuse their stipend for the next fiscal year to help?
In the City’s own budget document for fiscal year 19-20 on page 31 under Use of Reserves: “With the magnitude of the current economic stabilization reserve, $12 million as of budget preparation, use of reserves in each year will not dramatically change the City’s overall financial footing.”
Yet, the Council expects rank and file to do all the sacrificing or be laid off. The poor stay poor and the rich get rich, that’s how it goes and everybody knows…
During the prior downturn one union gave back. That’s the police union. Did not take a raise for six years. Those officers worked hard everyday and drove crime down and punched way above their weight class. When the economy was booming not only was it a battle for a cost of living raise but they wanted givebacks. The city also was fast to say that they had nothing to do with the givebacks so they wouldn’t negotiate when the economy gave back. So yes there is very little good will. Menlo Park suffers from poor leadership. Yet the employees go above and beyond.