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.