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Hard Choices: Balancing Palo Alto's budget gap

Original post made by Jocelyn Dong, editor of the Palo Alto Weekly, on May 28, 2010

Here's your chance to weigh in on how the City of Palo Alto should close its projected $7.3 million budget gap in fiscal year 2011. Palo Alto Online presents "Hard Choices," an interactive budget tool. Of the dozens of programs and services Palo Alto City Manager James Keene has identified, which would you cut or reduce funding to?

Use the interactive budget sheet Web Link and then return to Town Square to discuss your budget solutions. Feel free to share on Town Square your ideas for other ways to cut expenses or raise revenues.

Note that the budget cuts are under review by the City Council Finance Committee this month and are subject to change. The full council is scheduled to adopt the FY 2011 budget at the end of June.

Comments (34)

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Pardon my asking, but, I don't see any police, fire, or a bunch of other categories in here. I would like to see the fire department budget and see how much could be saved by eliminating overtime.

Posted by Lets go farther
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 28, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Lets go farther with the cuts...starting
1. Charge $100.00 more to each participant at the Children's Theater
2. Stop having to have an enviromental impact study for everything suggested to the City Counsel
3. Stop wasting money on the current city hall (sound system) and other things which probably can be fixed by a currant sound person or volunteer.
4. Utilize vacant areas at City Hall and stop paying rent in other buildings.
5. Take a deep breath amd wait 6 months before deciding on any issue over $100.000
6. Establish a co-pay for the City employees for their medical issues. This includes the unionized personnel and retirees.

Lets start running this city like a business and not a money pit.

Posted by R
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Most of the outsourcing options are an easy "yes".

Eliminating summer Twilight Concert series is dumb. It creates a good community spirit for a small amount of $$.

Fewer libraries with longer hours is clearly better than more libraries with shorter hours. Does anyone disagree with this??!

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

The biggest money saver, but one which would take a lot of political guts, would be to consolidate the Fire Department with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The consolidated agency would need half the current supervisory staff and could combine many other support functions. Two big obstacles - lack of thinking outside the box by local officials and crossing the county line - although the Palo Alto Fire Department already provides coverage for the portions of Stanford that are in San Mateo County.

To get some idea of the potential savings involved in fire consolidations look at the recently released San Mateo County Grand Jury report:

Web Link

Anybody up to some innovative and courageous tax saving thinking?

Posted by Frank Bravo
director of IT, Embarcadero Media and webmaster of Palo Alto Online
on May 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Frank Bravo is a registered user.

We've added a link to the full proposed budget as well. You can see it here:

Web Link

Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on May 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.


The list of cuts isn't organized by departments, though it does include items from Police (traffic team, financial-fraud investigators) and Fire (HazMat Specialist) departments. The list also isn't all-inclusive. It only includes the programs that were identified by City Manager James Keene for possible elimination in the proposed 2011 budget.

Overtime in the Fire Department is difficult to eliminate because of the minimum-staff requirement in the firefighter's union contract (see this story for more information on this topic Web Link ).

You can see the Fire Department budget on page 85 of the proposed operating budget.



Posted by JA3
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 28, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is spot-on; his is a fantastic idea. It's time-tested: it's been tried elsewhere with much success. The savings would likely be quite significant.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 28, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Here are three great examples of consolidated fire agencies:

1 -Here is the Orange County Fire Authority story:

Prior to May, 1980, fire service for the cities of Cypress, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Placentia, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda along with the County unincorporated areas was provided by the California Department of Forestry (CDF)*. However, on May 16, 1980, the Orange County Fire Department (OCFD) was formed as a county department reporting to the Board of Supervisors. It's first Fire Chief was Larry Holmes. Fifty-two percent of the 518,483 residents served by the OCFD lived in unincorporated areas of the County.

However, over the course of the next decade, five new cities were formed from unincorporated territory and two additional cities decided to contract with OCFD for fire service. As a result, by January 1, 1991, over 80% of OCFD's service population of 808,139 lived within these sixteen cities. Yet their fire service was still governed by the Board of Supervisors. The cities wanted greater input into how their emergency services were provided. Clearly a new form of governance was needed for these new circumstances.

During 1991, the OCFD was on its way exploring the possibility of forming a special district as an independent entity governed by a board of directors representing the member cities and the County. The California Government Code dealing with special districts was studied, other fire protection districts were contacted, and services the new agency would need to provide were identified (i.e. investment services, employee benefits, payroll, and purchasing). Discussions had begun with the County about transferring title of the fire stations to the new organization. However, although a great deal of enthusiasm and effort was poured into this project, unforeseen difficulties prevented the formation of a special district.

Nevertheless, the dream did not die and the momentum was soon recaptured. A new governance structure, a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), was selected. Much of the previous work was used in this endeavor. By 1994 the plans and structure of the new agency were well underway. The County Board of Supervisors, the various City Councils, the OCFD labor groups, and management were all pulling together to launch the new JPA. Then on December 6, 1994, the County of Orange declared bankruptcy. Yet, inspite of this almost insurmountable obstacle, the dreams and plans were brought to fruition and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), under Interim Fire Chief Ken Mcleod, was formed on March 1, 1995. The County bankruptcy, which was merely coincidental to the JPA formation, had not derailed the efforts.

Since then, the OCFA has continued to grow. Three more cities contracted with the OCFA for service and three new cities incorporated. The helicopter program was begun in 1995 and in 1997 Chip Prather was appointed the new Fire Chief. The move to the recently completed Regional Fire and Operations Training Center (RFOTC) finished in May of 2004 and in 2009 Keith Richter became the OCFA's third Fire Chief.

* - In 1980, the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Newport Beach, Orange, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster had their own municipal fire departments. Since then, Buena Park, San Clemente, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster joined the OCFD/OCFA.

2 - Here is the San Francisco Fire Department story:

Established in 1866, the San Francisco Fire Department is rich in tradition and history. From the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 to the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, the Department has grown to meet the many challenges along the way. Today, the San Francisco Fire Department serves an estimated 1.5 million people, providing fire suppression and emergency medical services to the residents, visitors and workers within San Francisco's 49 square miles.

To find out more about the San Francisco Fire Department, we invite you to explore our website. Here you will find information links to learn about our history, outlines of the Department's organization and operations, information about the programs and services we offer to the public and highlights of the Department's many achievements.

SFFD Emergency Medical Services

The San Francisco Fire Department is a permitted ambulance provider in the City and County of San Francisco, dedicated to providing excellent EMS care for the full spectrum of medical emergencies. The Department follows the local ambulance ordinance and adheres to the policies and protocols for pre-hospital care set by the San Francisco Emergency Medical Services Agency (SF EMSA). All Department paramedics and firefighter/paramedics are licensed by the State of California EMS Authority and accredited with SF EMSA. All emergency medical technicians and firefighter/EMTs are certified with SF EMSA. All accreditation, certification and licensing is in accordance with Division 2.5 of the Health and Safety Code, the California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 9, and SF EMSA policies 2040 and 2050.

3 - Here is the Sac Metro Fire story:

On December 1, 2000, two local fire districts came together and formed the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. From public education and training to firefighting, emergency services, search and rescue and more, your Metro Fire professionals stand ready to serve the greater Sacramento region. We invite you to visit this site often and let us know what we can do to improve our partnerships with you, our community.

The highly skilled firefighters and support personnel of Metro Fire serve nearly 640,000 citizens over a 417-square-mile area, serving Sacramento & Placer counties including the City of Citrus Heights and the City of Rancho Cordova.

Historically, Metro Fire represents 16 former fire agencies, some of which were founded more than six decades ago. Today, Metro Fire is the seventh-largest fire district in California with 42 strategically located fire stations.

Thanks to fire district consolidations, we are more effective than ever. We operate a central 911 dispatch center and a unified communications system that keeps all our fire companies informed and connected. Mergers have also enhanced the consistency of our training and operations, helping us maintain our reputation as a respected leader in firefighting and emergency services.


Anybody up to some innovative and courageous tax saving thinking for Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto?

Posted by snip snip
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Unfortunately there are items I would cut that are not there:

1) Assistant to the city Manager for sustainability ($160,000)
2) Graphics artist for budgets in the Admin Services ($100,000)
3) One of the two recruiting people in HR ($100,000)
4) Assistant Library Director ($150,000)
5) City Council chambers renovation except for sound system ($250,000)
6) Childrens Theater reduce funding by $300,000 per year - they should fund raise the cut.
7) Art center reduce funding by 25% per year - they should fund raise the cut.
8) Eliminate all subsidies for rennovating when BMR housing is resold to new owners.
9) Cap all new hire pensions.

Posted by John Doe
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2010 at 6:19 am

Before you look to San Francisco as an example of how to consolidate services, you should know more about it. It was sold to City Hall as a "cost neutral" merger of the fire department and ambulance service, but ended up with a bill well into the millions and took over ten years to resolve. In the end, they would have saved a great deal of money if they just painted the ambulances red, which is the basic difference now that the merger is done. I don't think that is the innovative and courageous tax savings you're looking for.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2010 at 9:00 am

Get rid of 2 libraries, at least.

Get rid of subsidizing Childrens Theatre and Junior Zoo.

Get retail base strong again with revitalizing Downtown, Alma and Edgewood with stores that Palo Altans will spend tax $$. Then get a couple of big box stores beside the new Charleston Center in Mountain View which is in Palo Alto so we can buy the things we need here rather than anywhere else.

Reduce the number of top jobs in City Hall.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2010 at 10:34 am

We are looking to sweep up crumbs in the corner while there are molding pizzas under the rug. Let's start with where the money is going. Let's look at the hard stuff, starting with the Fire Department. Let's look at the free market wages for firefighters, if there is such a number, including pensions in the overall compensation, and let's look at Fire Department Overtime, the battalion chief (is that the correct term? I'm no expert) thing and how it contributes to the overall pension picture. The city of Vallejo went under because of Fire Department costs-- we have to make sure that what we are doing is sustainable long term.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 29, 2010 at 10:40 am

Anon states:"Let's look at the hard stuff, starting with the Fire Department. "

There are no easy savings in trying to tweak the current Fire Department budget. The labor agreements preclude any easy changes and traditions prevent people from even looking at structural changes.

I believe that the only way to significantly reduce costs is via consolidation with other fire agencies, like MPFPD, or by outsourcing. An the minute the city leaders start looking seriously at either consolidation or outsorcing they will see a dramatic change in the union's willingness to make concessions.

Posted by Nothing changes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2010 at 11:12 am

So the City plans to spend $275,000 to refurbish City Hall, but if residents pay for their own sidewalk repairs, that will save the City $250,000. I wonder where our self-absorbed administration and City Council are going to get the remaining $25,000!!!

I am amazed at the chutzpa of our Finance Committee that they can authorize spending $275,000 on City Hall and at the very same meeting they ding the residents $250,000 to repair the sidewalks. The administration tells us that both items are capital improvements but come from different City budget pots. Any excuse will do!!

Some years ago the Council Chambers were refurbished at a cost of $1. Million; now they want another $275,000 to spend on City Hall. At the same time they're telling us how they need to find $7.3 Million to fill the gaps in the City budget!!!

Posted by Matt Stewart
a resident of Downtown North
on May 29, 2010 at 11:24 am

The Fire Department is treating itself like a sacred cow. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Also, we need more juicy, progressive revenue measures such as an increase in the real-estate transfer tax and a gross-receipts tax that nails the wealthy greed-heads.

Posted by Hardball
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2010 at 11:55 am

"There are no easy savings in trying to tweak the current Fire Department budget. The labor agreements preclude any easy changes"

Which is to say that the firefighters are unwilling to help with the budget.

If they won't come to the table, the city has other levers. The goal should be sustainable costs, which rules out the gold-plated pension plans and exorbitant salaries.

The city needs to hold down costs short- and long-term. To solve the short-term issue, just fire firefighters and make do.

To solve the long-term problem, open new talks with firefighters and renegotiate contracts. The present agreements with public employees are destined to bankrupt the city. The people who negotiated them were profligate.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm

>“Lets start running this city like a business and not a money pit.”

YES! That philosophy is way overdue. There are some great ideas in these posts.

But is anyone at City Hall listening? Or are they all too busy feeding the sacred cows?

>”Anybody up to some innovative and courageous tax saving thinking?”


The budget deficit is structural. It’s not a temporary situation that will improve next year or in 10 years. That means the $7.3 M cuts this year will probably just be the first of many.

Keep in mind that we have a $510 Million infrastructure backlog. The city is proposing a bond issue to cover that. Haven’t we already paid our taxes into the general fund to pay for infrastructure? Instead, the city has neglected infrastructure in favor of frivolous spending.

Also be aware that the proposed cuts are only from the General Fund. When will there be an audit of the Enterprise Funds (electric, gas, water, etc.)? Or will we continue to get utility increases every year so the city can transfer our payments from the Utility Department into the General Fund to make up the deficit?

In 2009, $15M was transferred to the general fund. In 2010 it's projected to be $15.96M. Since 1910, total transfers from Utilities to the City amount to $351M.

The list of cuts proposed by the city manager is a bottom-up list prepared by department managers. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and it’s certainly not based on priorities. Some items (traffic team, school crossing guard) are clearly in the category of public safety. Others (sidewalk repairs) are part of infrastructure.

If the city is serious about making long-term structural changes, now is the time to do it.

* Base cuts on priorities:
1. Essential for the welfare of all residents
2. Not essential, but makes the city a good place to live and benefits the majority of residents
3. Not at all essential and serves only small groups of residents.

* Take control of union salaries, pensions, benefits. They are bankrupting the state. Some unions are cooperating, e.g., S.F. police, fire agree to forgo pay raises.
Web Link

* Cut some of the high-level management positions, e.g., Sustainability Manager.

* Outsource as many services as possible. Residents could still enjoy the services, but with a savings of 70 employees’ salaries & benefits.
- Printing & mail services (4 employees)
- Payroll (4 employees)
- Graphic designer for the budget (1 employee).
- Golf maintenance & repair (8 employees)
- Employee development (3 employees)
- Benefits/compensation (3 employees)
- Tree services. (CMR 208 10 shows 4 employees cut in tree trimming services, but the budget shows 15 employees under Trees in Public Works.)
- Street sweeping/cleaning (12 employees)
- All facilities maintenance: painting, cleaning, electrical, etc. (20.5 employees)

* Get rid of city cars and pay employees mileage for business travel. The Equipment Management Department in Public Works shows 16 employees.

* Do not buy public art. The city doesn’t need to own an art collection. Let the art commission choose works from artists who will put them on display for 6 – 12 months.

* Turn over the Children’s' Theatre, Jr. Museum & Zoo, Art Center, Golf Course to private groups. The CT will cost $1.3M next year, even with charges for participation. The Jr. Museum will cost over $1M.

In 2006, a group wanted to take over the Museum/Zoo, but then-councilwoman LaDoris Cordell vetoed the idea because she didn't want any city employees to lose their jobs.

* Do not keep all 5 libraries open. Close College Terrace & Downtown. (Yes, I know this is anathema, but it’s wasteful and unnecessary to stock and staff six libraries for a city our size.)

* Audit the IT department and see if the SAP system can be reasonably replaced.

Imagine applying all the savings to the infrastructure and pension backlogs. Imagine all our buildings, streets and sidewalks in good repair.

Now is the time to not only solve this year’s budget crisis, but to reorganize the city for the tough years ahead.

Posted by Watchdog
a resident of Professorville
on May 31, 2010 at 9:45 am

pat is right. Outsource 90% of local municipal government and have the budget and the employees for the remaining 10% in-sourced functions actively monitored by a watchdog committee that should include Marvin, fireman, pat, and other concerned citizens.

Posted by Watchdog
a resident of Professorville
on May 31, 2010 at 10:35 am

Palo Alto City government is top heavy. Cut the City Manager's staff and budget by at least 50% to show the way toward fiscal responsibility. Do the same with the City Attorney and the HR Department. That will gain the City credibility, respect so essential in negotiating with firefighters and other employees.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2010 at 10:57 am

If you do some research you will find that 15 years ago a large regional fire department consolidation was being considered. The PA firefighter union was one of the biggest supporters of the consolidation. It didn't happen because of the lack of will by the politicians, not the workers.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm

(Per Wikipedia)

"According to a 2007 estimate, the median income for a household in the city was $119,046, and the median income for a family was $153,197.[9] Males had a median income of $91,051 versus $60,202 for females. The per capita income for the city was $56,257. About 3.2% of families and 4.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.0% of those under age 18 and 5.0% of those age 65 or over. The reason for the difference between the household income and the family income can be explained by the fact that some areas of Palo Alto are populated by graduate students from Stanford University who do not live on the Stanford campus."

During difficult economic times, no person working for the City, should make more than the average resident contributing to their salaries and benefits.

In order to delay or avoid massive layoffs and program cuts, have any employee "contribute" the portion of their salary that exceeds the average income of their citizenry, back to the operation of the City.

This provides the ultimate good faith incentive to bring the budget back into balanced status, while not asking more than what every resident is facing.

This - or some version of this requirement - can be done on a year by year basis until the budget is balanced.

Employee contribution of the portion of their salary which exceeds the average residents income, will guarantee their job status for the full year ahead.

This temporarily brings salaries in-line with those paying for their work, helps reduce budgetary requirements, maintains programs and services at a reasonable level, and brings a sense of comaraderie into play between citizens and employees.

When the budget is balanced, and incomes can be increased, gradually reward those employees that contributed to our system, with their previous salaries - as is possible.

In the mean time and at all times - continue to look for cuts that make sense, and eliminate costs that will not permanently effect the function and desireability of Palo Alto.

Secondly, look for ways to engage and encourage residents to contribute on their own - in exchange for the typical mindless methods government raises revenues, such as issuing parking tickets, the "click it or ticket" bs, and other obvious means of getting money from us. It's petty, obvious and demeaning, and we're above that. At least our property taxes say we're above that...

Enlist our help, don't simply find more ways to wrestle money from our pockets. Want us out? Keep doing that..

What makes the average home cost what it does in Palo Alto?
Use those - above average methods of operation - and we'll continue to grow. Rely on what other cities do to beat/deal with this economic situation, and we should expect to feel like those cities.

I think we need to be Palo Alto in order to get through this in one piece. If we simply emulate other cities in our methods of dealing with our public and this budget crisis, we can expect to also emulate their long term woes.

Be unique! Put a little effort into thinking about going against the grain. Cut our costs! Reduce our fees! Find ways to put or keep money in our pockets, and then ask us to contribute to the costs of keeping the city functioning as we want.

Just a little outside the box thinking...

Posted by opus
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2010 at 9:31 pm

have the city manager and city council tell us what happened to the missing $4.8 million from the general fund as disclosed in november.

Posted by Mary G
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2010 at 11:55 am

Okay - that is an interesting exercise. However, it is somewhat meaningless when:
a. we don't know how many jobs will be left in a department if we cut one or two
b. Children's theater costs are not included
c. Fire department is not represented
d. Art center rehab costs not included
e. etc etc etc.

Posted by Willy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2010 at 3:50 pm

As long as there is a budget deficit, every nickel that is spent is money we don't have. I would like to see the beautiful and expensive new website provide the capability for all Palo Altans to post a yes or no vote on every expenditure over $25,000, leaving a 10 day window for responses.

While the vote is not binding, it would require the City Council to provide reasons why they chose to spend money we don't have. The response would go something like this"

"Against the wishes of Palo Altans, the council members listed below chose to spend $150,000 like a bunch of drunken sailors on shore leave (no disrespect for service men and women, but lots of disrespect for those voting yes) for an assistant director of park restroom cleaning details. The reason we did this is because he is a nephew of one of us."

Hopefully each example of wasteful spending will be picked up by the national media and used to ridicule those who think we have unlimited bank accounts in this town.


Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Jun 6, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I agree with most of what has already been posted here.
I tried to mark up the Budget points, but it wasn't taken. I agree with almost of those proposed cuts with a few exceptions that modify the amounts.

o Outsource a number of positions.
o Put teeth into finally fixing pension inequities, i.e., no more wholesale giveaways, no retiring as "kids".
o Hope that Simitian's proposal passes whereby you cannot backload last year of employment.
o Sick leave is there to protect employee from devastatig illness, not some paid bonus at the end of employment. Very few, if any,
businesses payout on sick leave, only vacation time left.
o Children's Theater is over funded and should require more of those participating.
o Putting sidewalk repair on citizens for $250,000 should not be considered "found" money to immediately spend sprucing up City Hall. Repair the sound system.
o Audit the "Palo Alto Process." We have people doing some jobs so inefficiently, no wonder it takes so many people and so long to get simple cooperation from planning dept. and others to get very simple things viewed and approved.
o What's with the "surprise" shortfalls like refuse? Either department heads are stupid and do not know how their organization is operating or they are trying to obfuscate the facts until they are in a bind. Neither should be tolerated.

Posted by Hardball
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 6, 2010 at 8:28 pm

The heart of the budget problem is what the city pays employees (salaries and benefits).

San Jose is discussing (Web Link a solution that would mean no cuts in services: a unilateral cut of 10% in employee compensation. It would be a start....

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 6, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Yes, Sam Jose Mayor Chuck Reed seems to be a real leader besides a politician. He seems a sensible person AND capable of making an impact. He speaks clearly, too.
(aside: on another thread I remarked that I couldn't understand any points made by Ms. Kishimoto, though she frequently spoke at length while on PA city council...)-- I have more problems with this here compared to where I have lived previously.
I gather he has more power (in the role of mayor in San Jose) than our mayor?
Is there any way we can reduce the # PA city council members? They are excessive IMO.

Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

To "Carol Gilbert" -

There was no "surprise shortfall" in the Refuse Fund. Staff had taken that issue forward to the Finance Committee in early April, and the Committee chose to not act on it.

It is back now as an urgency item because if it is not dealt with at this time there will be a shortfall at the end of next fiscal year, June 2011. Staff has been proactive in anticipating a future problem and recommending action before it becomes a reality.

Perhaps you shouldn't take your facts, opinions, and conclusions from reading Dianna Diamond's reports?

Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2010 at 1:45 pm

If the Fianance Committee and City Council in April had initiated the process to raise rates for any of the enterprise funds (electric, gas, waster, sewer, storm drain, or refuse), then the voters would have received notices of the proposed rate increases at the same time they were deciding on how to vote on the school parcel tax.

After we knew the results of the school parcel tax election, we might think that voters knowledge of a proposed utility rate increase would not have affected the yes-no vote enough to defeat the school ballot measure, but at the time the Finance Committee was considering whether to raise any fees, they didn't know how wide the margin would be for the school tax, and they didn't want to take any chances that would negatively affect the results of the vote by telling the voters during the campaign that their utility rates were scheduled to go up.

At the April 6 Finance Committee meeting, the committee was presented with information only about the $2.5 million effect of a refuse rate increase on next year's budget.

It was at the May 27 Finance Committte meeting that staff first presented the committee with information about the shortfall in revenues this fiscal year, the depletion of required reserve funds, and proposed alternate plans for multi-year refuse rate increases.

Posted by Dolores
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I think Bob of Southgate has the solution, not only for Palo Alto, but for the state as a whole. It should even be an approach applied by business and non-profits.

The glaring, in our face, fact is that we are dying under the weight of retaining boom-time compensation for all those "best and brightest" managers, ceos and executive-level employees, in a post-boom era where the reality of increasing poverty around us can no longer viably sustain our previous excesses.

Yes, this is an expensive area to live... because it can be. And it will be as long as folks setting prices anticipate multiple 6 and 7 figure incomes among their potential clientele, as they simultaneously drive out - and we help them to do so by laying off lower and middle-scale employees - the lower middle class and middle middle class base that overwhelmingly supports local businesses and charities.

If the market truly self-corrected, then we would no longer be paying exhorbitant compensations at the top, and we would have long ago seen to making sure that there was better equity so that workers at the base made enough to keep local our service, retail and manufacturing sectors healthy through their spending.

What we are doing instead is subsidizing the life-style of a few at the expense of the majority. And frankly, for most it is not about actual need, but about prestige and ego. Six figures is what it takes to assume that one has "made it," while seven figures or more indicate that one "has arrived." "It may be the path to Dante's Hell, but let somebody else be sacrificed to fix it."

So, say we "outsource" janitorial, park maintenance, etc... at the loss of over a dozen jobs for lower income local residents. Who gained? And is that gain either fiscally prudent in the long term... or moral in its concept?

We live in an area where it is just as socially acceptable to have a public servant manager making 200% more than some of his staff, as to have a ceo making 2000% more than the 9,000 he or she is about to lay off, as to having local pastors laying off and cutting staff to half time while remaining untouched in their own ample benefits packages.

So much for affluent morailty. So much for the "superior ethic" of the accomodated liberal American.

But, can we at least take steps and correct our behaviors for our own selfish survival and comfort?!
Unless, of course, what we aspire to is bringing down the American experiment and re-inventing a newer, more potent version of the have-have not dichotomy. An America of millions of beggars falling over one another for the benevolence of a few New Age maharajas. But, and I hate to be a downer, but surely not everyone in Palo alto will end up a maharaja and not a beggar.

So what say we go to the root of our budget problems, get back to the notion of civil servants giving up dreams of oppulence and financial prestige in exchange for the prestige of serving others and making the decent, predictable and safe incomes that used to characterize our middle, middle class.

I suggest we recalculate the budget based on a formula in which the bottom tier salaries are at least 2x or 3x full-time minimum wage and adhere to a set formula for step-increases that is not haphazard or capricious. Building upon that bottom scale, the scale for more demanding or responsible jobs would go up accordingly from that base scale - 20% higher for some - 40% higher for upper middle level, and 60% higher for top level execs. I suspect we would find ourselves facing the dilemma of what to do with the huge surplus we would have discovered... in Palo Alto, as well as in California. (And... as for the best and the brightest, well, they can shine away in Dante's Hell, where their self-centeredness has led all the rest of us all these years.)

Posted by GougedInMidtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2010 at 11:16 am

I just completed the "budgeting" exercise and I have to say that it was highly selective in the choices it presented. As many people have already pointed out the police, fire department and other departments were not choices. Neither was there any choice on salaries and benefits to the employees. Why should we tax payers who work in the private sector pay taxes for public sector employees to have salaries and benefits that exceed what we make? And not even have a choice to control where our taxes go? I am positive that there are plenty of people who would happily and responsibly conduct work as city employees without the sorts of entitled behaviors and benefits that current employees have. This public budgeting exercise does not seem like a sincere effort to seek public input but more like a charade designed to be an eye wash. Mr. Koch - there has to be some way you can be hired to din sense into this city!

Posted by Steven
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm

See link to a fire last week in Seattle that killed a woman and 4 children. After the horrible event, the Mayor of Seattle dropped proposed cuts to public safety. Still willing to gamble with public safety?

Web Link

Posted by Steven
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Here is the story about the tragic fire in Seattle.

Web Link

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Steven asks:"Still willing to gamble with public safety? "

If PA Fire and Menlo Park Fire Protection District were consolidated the total costs would go down and the service levels would go up - that is not gambling with public safety it is being smart with public safety.

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