Palo Alto Weekly
News - May 11, 2012
Palo Alto looks to raise fees for artist studios, athletic fields
City also considers charging more for community gardens and adding fees for lawn bowling
by Gennady Sheyner
Faced with skyrocketing pension and health care costs for city workers and retirees, Palo Alto officials are considering raising fees for athletes who play on local fields, gardeners who plant at city parks and artists who rent studios at Cubberley Community Center to balance the budget this year.
The fee increases are included in City Manager James Keene's budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. They aim to close the budget gap caused by rapidly rising employee expenditures. Pension and health care costs have each risen by about $300,000 over the past year, while the city's contribution for retirees' medical care will jump by $1.9 million in fiscal year 2013, according to Lalo Perez, the city's chief financial officer.
The spiking expenditures are casting a shadow over good news on the revenue front — namely, the fact that the city's sales-tax and hotel-tax revenues have essentially returned to where they were before the economy tanked in 2008. But while Keene's proposed budget for 2013 includes a $3.1 million increase in revenues, it also includes a $3.9 million hike in expenditures.
Perhaps the most dramatic, and controversial proposal, in Keene's effort to curb costs is elimination of the city's animal-services operation, a move that finance officials estimate will save about $500,000 annually. But while outsourcing animal services has generated much publicity and unleashed community opposition, animal lovers aren't the only residents who could feel an impact should the City Council adopt the proposed budget.
The council's Finance Committee considered on Tuesday night the budget for the Community Services Department and heard protests from more than a dozen residents, including gardeners, artists and lawn bowlers.
Keene's budget recommends asking those who use particular city-owned facilities to pay more so that the operations are more financially self-sustaining. The budget proposes raising the rent the city charges community gardens (designated gardening spaces at Johnson Park, Eleanor Pardee Park and near the Main Library) from 50 cents per square foot annually to $1 per square foot. This would raise the cost to most gardeners by $80 to $160 a year, depending on the garden size, and bring about $30,000 in revenue to the city.
The budget also proposed raising studio rents at Cubberley Community Center, located at 4000 Middlefield Road, by 30 cents per square foot; raising fees for lawn bowlers by $100 a year (effectively doubling what they pay now); and generating another $100,000 in revenues by raising fees for users of athletic fields. These fees would help cover the cost of maintaining the fields.
Though the Finance Committee agreed that the proposed fee hikes are too steep and too hasty, members also acknowledged that some increases would be needed to cover the structural budget deficit and make sure community services revenues approach expenditures. The committee directed staff to return next week with a revised proposal that includes less dramatic increases to studio and garden rates. Councilman Pat Burt said the rate increases should be about half as steep as the ones staff had proposed.
"We've got big cuts that we have to make," Burt said. "But in any case where you had a longtime community use and you have a doubling or, in this case, a more than doubling of the fees in a single year — it's just too abrupt in my mind."
Greg Betts, director of the Community Services Department, said programs like lawn bowling and community gardens were selected for fee increases because these are "exclusive-use facilities" that benefit a particular group rather than the community at large.
But many of the artists and gardeners who spoke at the meeting said their operations are valuable to the larger community. Rita Morgin, who plants at the community garden near the Main Library, said the proposal to raise fees would make the community gardens "unavailable to people who'd benefit most" — low-income residents and renters who don't have gardens of their own.
"This kind of an increase is really outrageous for gardeners — especially on a limited income," Morgin said.
Burt also argued that the benefits of community gardens go far beyond the gardeners who plant them.
"While I recognize that the most direct benefit is to the gardeners, I think the community gardens do benefit a wider group of the community," Burt said. "In my neighborhood, people who don't have gardens view it as a community benefit to walk the gardens."
"There are other intrinsic values placed in there by the community and the community members who are not using the gardens," he later added.
Several of the artists who attended the meeting urged council members not to rush into raising the fees. Marguerite Fletcher, an artist with a studio at Cubberley, said artists have been making a special effort to reach out to the greater public. The effort includes more open-studio times, more public lectures and participation in Palo Alto Art Center programs.
"We do understand that the city is facing real financial dilemmas, and we'd like time to work with you on a resolution that can preserve our artistic community and find equitable solutions," Fletcher said.
Committee Chair Nancy Shepherd emphasized the need to "build a sustainable future for all these groups." She and Councilwoman Gail Price both advocated having staff negotiate with artists, gardeners and other parties impacted by the new fees to consider various revenue options. All three committee members (Vice Mayor Greg Scharff was absent) lauded the artist studios and agreed that they make valuable contributions to the city.
"We pride ourselves on being creative and valuing the arts and the use of the imagination," Price said. "And we need to live by that."
The Tuesday hearing was the first of a series public meetings leading up to the council's budget adoption on June 18. The budget proposes to eliminate 18 positions citywide and to keep 20 vacancies frozen. If adopted, the city's staffing level would drop to 1,006 full-time positions, 72 fewer than were budgeted for in 2011.
The proposed budget also plans to raise the city's infrastructure spending by $2.2 million, as recommended in a recent report by the 17-member Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. The council had also considered asking the voters to approve in November a bond or a tax increase to raise money for infrastructure repairs. But council members and staff ultimately agreed that they don't have enough time to do the necessary research and outreach for a ballot measure this year.
On Tuesday night, the council's Policy and Services Committee unanimously recommended not putting a revenue-raising ballot measure on the November ballot, a recommendation that the full council will consider later this month. The committee agreed that the city should instead look to 2014 for a possible ballot measure.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Peter Carpenter,
a resident of Atherton
on May 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
It really IS feasible to do pension reform. All it takes are elected officials who refuses to be bought by the unions and who refuse to continue down the current path. pensions that have already been earned should remain but all new employees should go on a defined contribution plan and all existing employees should have the future additions to their pension payouts significantly reduced.
Here is what the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (which serves MP, EPA and Atherton) Board has done:
Resolution No. __________
RESOLUTION OF THE MENLO PARK FIRE
PROTECTION DISTRICT BOARD OF DIRECTORS APPROVING
AMENDMENTS AND IMPROVEMENTS TO CURRENT DISTRICT PRACTICES
AND POLICIES AFFECTING SAFETY EMPLOYEES
WHEREAS, the labor agreement (hereafter "Memorandum of Understanding" or
"MOU") between the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (hereafter "District") and the Menlo
Park Firefighters' Association, IAFF Local 2400 (hereafter "Union"), expired on June 30, 2008;
WHEREAS, since June 30, 2008, the Union and the District have been unable to reach
agreement on a successor MOU; and following numerous invitations by the District to negotiate
a new contract, all of which were declined by the Union, necessary changes required the District to declare impasse and impose terms and conditions of employmentincluding a $9,000 per year increase to the District's contribution toward the health and welfare benefit plan for each employee; and
WHEREAS, the Board strives to make sound and reasoned decisions regarding District
resources that properly account for current conditions and also ensure the District's ability to provide quality and efficient service to the community in the future; and
WHEREAS, the following changes are made pursuant to the District's Labor Relations
Policy and Plan (attached as Exhibit A), as well as the District's Compensation Philosophy
(attached as Exhibit B), for example, all changes are consistent with principles of fairness,transparency, fiscal sustainability and accountability; and
WHEREAS, the Fire Chief has recommended that various District practices and
policies be amended and improved to ensure that the District is acting efficiently pursuant to best practices; and
WHEREAS, the changes are designed such that no employee will see a reduction in
their gross hourly rate; and
WHEREAS, on September 21, 2011, the District invited the Union to meet and confer,
and sent a list of initial proposals that encompassed the issues covered by this resolution, for purposes of negotiating a comprehensive successor MOU; and
WHEREAS, by letter dated September 29, 2011, the Unionthrough its legal
counseladvised that the Union would "not resume negotiations with the District," and made any negotiations contingent on the District proposing a salary increase; and
WHEREAS, the Union has previously declined numerous invitations to return to the
bargaining table to negotiate with the District; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Directors of the Menlo
Park Fire Protection District that the following provisions are effective immediately upon
adoption of this resolution:
Affirmation of District Policy
1. The District reaffirms its Labor Relations Policy and Plan (attached as Exhibit A),
as well its Compensation Policy (attached as Exhibit B). This resolution is intended to
implement these District policies.
2. The District reaffirms its commitment to observe the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act
("MMBA"), and to meet and confer with labor regarding all matters within the scope of
representation. Notwithstanding the Union's refusal to negotiateto datethe District invites
the Union to meet and confer concerning any impacts stemming from this Resolution.
Furthermore, all items in this resolution that are mandatory subjects of bargaining shall be subject to future negotiation when the Union chooses to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a successor memorandum of understanding.
3. The District hereby adopts the following classifications for non-management
All other job classifications covering fire suppression personnel are hereby deleted. Incumbents in any classification which is deleted shall be re-classified in one of the foregoing classifications according to their credentials. For example, Firefighters who hold paramedic certification shall be classified as "Firefighter-Paramedic," Firefighters who possess a valid EMT certificate shall be classified as "Firefighter-EMT," and so on. This rank structure facilitates the District's elimination of separate pay premiums, consistent with its Labor Relations Policy and Plan.
4. The hourly rate schedules applicable to non-management classifications, and
monthly salaries for Battalion Chiefs and Division Chiefs, are set forth in Exhibit C to this
resolution. Any increases or decrease in the hourly rate and salary schedules shall be subject to approval by the Board of Directors.
5. The Fire Chief shall "y" rate any incumbent who would otherwise suffer a base
wage reduction by virtue of this resolution.
6. The Fire Chief shall have the authority to establish regular pay periods, and to
declare any appropriate work period under Section 7K of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Unless the Fire Chief institutes a different schedule, pay days shall be bi-monthlyon the 15th day and the last day of each month.
7. Supplemental Earnings: All "Supplemental Earnings" (formerly referred to as
"Acting Pays") are set forth in Exhibit D attached hereto.
8. The eligibility of new hire firefighters (Firefighter-Academy, Firefighter-Trainee
and Firefighter-Probationary) for wages and benefits is set forth in Exhibit E attached hereto.
Health and Welfare Benefits
9. The Fire Chief shall maintain a simple health and benefit program that is
transparent and easily understood by the public. A summary of the benefits program is attached hereto as Exhibit F.
10. Consolidation of Leave: In order to promote transparency and administrative
efficiency, the District shall phase out the multiple leave balances and implement a single Annual Leave program for those ranks specified in paragraph 3. As part of the District's effort to minimize long term fiscal liabilities, the annual leave cap for all 56 hour employees shall be 480 hours; for all 40 hour Senior Inspector employees, the cap shall be 320 hours. All annual leave hours currently held by any employee in excess of the applicable cap will be cashed out. Details regarding the program are included in Exhibit G attached hereto. All remaining Extended Sick Leave (ESL) hours will be converted to 25% of their current balance and added to the employee's annual leave bank (subject to the cap of 480), with any excess hours deposited to the employee's PEHP account.
11. Retiree Medical Program: For current retirees already receiving a retiree medical
benefit, the benefit shall remain unchanged. For employees hired on or after January 1, 2012, the District shall no longer make a separate contribution to retiree health. For current safety employees, the Fire Chief shall implement a buy-out plan as set forth in Exhibit H attached hereto. Current safety employees shall be required to select one of the options included in the buy-out plan, and if they fail to make an election, amounts will be paid in cash.
12. Educational Reimbursement Program: The Fire Chief has sole discretion to
approve or deny reimbursement requests and to determine whether a particular training or class is or is not beneficial to the District. The Fire Chief shall approve only such requests as the Chief deems beneficial to the District.
13. New Hires: The Fire Chief shall consider options for developing a "second tier"
retirement program for employees hired on or after January 1, 2012; the options to be
considered shall include both lower level defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans (such as a 401k). The Fire Chief shall report his findings and recommendation to the Board.
14. Current Employees: Current employees shall pay 75% of any future increases to
the CalPERS employer contribution rate (over the current 25.821%), subject to any applicable CalPERS rules or restrictions.
Miscellaneous Operational Issues
15. Holiday Work Schedule: There is no modified holiday work schedule for 56 hour
employees. Employees shall adhere to daily and weekly work schedules as determined by the Fire Chief.
16. Senior Inspectors:
In order to improve the efficiency and increase the number of productive hours, the
work day for Senior Inspectors shall begin at 7:00 a.m. Each employee shall take a mandatory staggered minimum lunch, which is unpaid, of thirty minutes. Paid exercise time for Senior Inspectors is eliminated. Senior Inspectors are exempt from the Wellness Program.
17. In accordance with District needs and the corresponding organization of Station
responsibilities, the position of "adjutant" is hereby eliminated. The incumbent shall be
permitted to remain in this position until January 2, 2012.
18. The Fire Chief shall enforce a requirement that all emergency responders must be
able to return to the District within two hours. Current employees presently residing outside of this requirement may be grandfathered in unless and until they change residences. All safety employees hired on or after January 1, 2012, shall be subject to this requirement regardless of current residence.
19. The Fire Chief is authorized to implement any practice that, in the Fire Chief's
discretion, enhances the delivery of services, creates efficiencies, improves accountability, or enhances the health and safety of District personnel. These practices encompass, but are not limited to: station bid cycles and rotations; assignments; selection of annual leave; trades; prescheduled "back-fills;" and daily and weekly work schedules. The Fire Chief may implement any provision encompassed within the District's September 21, 2011, proposal to "maximize efficiencies in the work schedule." (This proposal is attached hereto as Exhibit I.)
20. The District confirms that it is not bound indefinitely by any provision in the
MOU that expired on June 30, 2008. With respect to future new proposals within the scope of representation that are not encompassed by this resolution, the Union shall be given the opportunity to meet and confer as required by State law. With respect to proposals for changes to matters within the scope of representation encompassed by this resolution, the Union shall be given the opportunity to meet and confer over impacts as required by State law. Except for disciplinary appeals, the grievance procedure in the expired MOU is suspended unless and until the parties reach formal agreement on a successor MOU that contains a grievance procedure.
Employees may continue to avail themselves of the grievance procedure set forth in Policy No.305, unless and until that policy is amended. (A copy of the current policy is attached hereto asExhibit J.)
21. The Fire Chief shall revise the District's personnel and operational policy
manuals. These policies shall be subject to meet and confer, when required by law, but shall not be subject to the District's impasse resolution procedure.
22. The Fire Chief is hereby empowered to take any actions necessary in the Fire
Chief's discretion to implement the terms of this resolution.
23. If any provision in this resolution is found to be invalid or otherwise
unenforceable, all remaining provisions shall remain in full force and effect. This resolution is subject to amendment by the Board of Directors pursuant to District policy and State law.