Three major budget problems will take $7 million or more from our 2007-08 general fund budget. Our "surplus" for the coming year is $1.7 million. But next year's budget will be deep in the red. We can cut staff and services again this time more severely than in the past -- or we can increase our revenue base.
Last November, based on recommendations from task forces on retail retention and enhancement, we proposed a three-year multi-element plan to enhance city revenues. We need this plan now more than ever to avoid further, deeper budget cuts.
Here's what we need to do:
1. Work with Stanford Shopping Center, now managed by Simon Property Group, to increase their total taxable sales by 30% or more.
2. Ensure that our auto dealers stay in town and successfully compete with larger franchises. The right solution could double our $2 million in auto sales taxes. With no solution, we will lose our dealerships over time, for a negative budget swing of $4 million a year.
3. Provide incentives to attract one or more hotels, partially offsetting the loss of revenue and services from the closure of Rickey's Hyatt.
4. Open discussions with Fry's to ensure they stay. Our Palo Alto store is their oldest and smallest. A reasonable reinvestment in this keystone operation could increase sales tax revenues by up to 50%.
5. Create new revenue opportunities in collaboration with major corporations in Stanford Research Park. Few of them maintain sales offices here so they provide negligible revenue to us. Our business-to-business sales tax revenues significantly lag those in other cities.
6. Focus new energy on our two downtowns, especially California Avenue. Upgraded streetscapes can enhance these shopping and dining centers. We need to ensure the prosperity of both.
We've already initiated work on most of these items. On budget night this Monday, it will be time to take strong, positive control of our revenue future. We must develop a comprehensive revenue strategy that addresses the magnitude of our growing revenue shortfall and establishes a series of specific objectives for potential increases. Finally, we must prepare a clear, actionable and measurable implementation plan, dedicating sufficient resources for this purpose to meet our long-term revenue needs.
(Editor's Note: Bern Beecham is a member of the Palo Alto City Council)