Palo Alto's budgets for art programs and grants to community organizations appear to be off the chopping block for next year, following Wednesday's meeting of the City Council.
Instead City Manager Frank Benest proposed alternative cuts to the Palo Alto's budget, in a quest to find an additional $3 million to rescue the city's soon-to-be bankrupt infrastructure fund. Benest urged the council Wednesday to extend its review of the city's governing document, the Comprehensive Plan, from two to four years; trim trees every 10 rather than every seven years; and provide a support role, rather than the lead, to address the most serious hazardous materials incidents.
Those three cuts would save more than $400,000 next year, according to Benest.
"We believe the service impacts are minimal," he said.
The city needs additional money for roads, buildings and other infrastructure because of the rise of construction costs and the city's desire to improve, rather than just replace, existing facilities, Benest said. He said the fund will be depleted in about four years if additional money is not invested.
One of the more controversial proposed savings entails outsourcing the maintenance of parks.
The city decided to investigate outsourcing, thereby eliminating city positions, following a report by City Auditor Sharon Erickson, Benest said.
That idea didn't sit well with the purple T-shirt clad members of the Service Employees' International Union -- who filled half the chambers Wednesday -- nor with members of the public who spoke.
"I can't believe this town is even considering (that)," said Paul George, director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center. "You're balancing the budget on the backs of people who can least afford it."
"City employees go above and beyond what a city contractor would ever do," one parks' worker told the council.
In response, several council members -- including John Barton, LaDoris Cordell, Peter Drekmeier, Judy Kleinberg and Jack Morton -- expressed their outright opposition or concerns about park maintenance outsourcing.
The nine council members expressed their commitment to finding the additional $3 million, but they remain far from agreeing where that money will come from.
Several council members urged Benest to pursue potential revenue enhancements, such as increasing a hotel tax as soon as November of this year and instituting a business tax.
Councilwoman Dena Mossar, echoing her previous statements, said she would like to see major cuts and argued against what she called "see-saw budget management, adding and deleting programs on the margin as the economy ebbs and flows."
Councilman Larry Klein warned his colleagues about "a great temptation to add back (cuts) all along the line" and asked city staff to probe a little deeper to find additional savings.
Councilwoman Cordell said the city should look to the public for potential money-saving ideas.
Other savings previously suggested included holding positions vacant, including the public communications manager, a senior financial analyst, an office specialist in Human Resources, a senior planner and a deputy director of operations in the Public Works Department.
The city also hopes to reduce its subsidy of classes and camps, collect additional money for athletic field use, increase the cost to rent space at Cubberley Community Center, staff the fire station in the foothills fully only on high fire days, and reduce non-necessary maintenance of city sidewalks, Benest said previously.
The final proposed budget will be published April 10, Benest said. It will then undergo eight public hearings before the council's Finance Committee prior to appearing before the council in June.