News

Menlo Park council votes to raise fees, touches on nonresident surcharge

Council asks to examine cost recovery policy

The usual process of increasing fees for city services each year in Menlo Park goes like this: The staff compiles a new list of prices, the City Council looks it over, there might be some comment about how much child care programs cost, and then the council votes to approve it.

The process didn't quite run like clockwork this year. Although council members Kirsten Keith and Rich Cline moved to approve the changes without comment during the April 29 meeting, their colleagues decided to talk about a few things first.

"Why are we raising fees right now?" Mayor Ray Mueller asked, nearly kicking off a policy debate. He said he didn't support raising prices whenever the staff got raises, but acknowledged later that the formula was more complex than that.

"This is balancing our budget. It's important that these fees be here," said City Manager Alex McIntyre. While the fees weren't raised to balance the budget, he explained, they contributed to reaching that goal.

"It seems funny to me that we get this in such a fashion that we can't change things if we see something we'd like to change," Vice Mayor Cat Carlton commented later. She advocated raising rates for businesses making a profit by renting the city's sports fields. "That's where I'd like to see us bring in the money we need to bring in" instead of raising prices for families.

Community Services Director Cherise Brandell noted that previous council direction had been to maximize cost recovery, particularly for child care, and that had framed the staff's work on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15, including the fee adjustments. That policy would need to change, she said, if the council now wants to look for alternatives.

Finally, as the hour crept towards midnight, Mayor Mueller announced that he would support the fee changes "because I'm told we won't have a balanced budget otherwise," but emphasized that he wants to examine the cost recovery policy at a later date.

The fee increases passed with a 5-0 vote, with the changes scheduled to take effect July 1, when the next fiscal year starts. The staff estimated that community services revenue will go up by $171,300 as a result.

Among other changes: Programs at the Menlo Children's Center will cost 1 to 7 percent more; the gymnastics programs gets a 5 percent bump; and rental fees for recreation facilities as well as birthday party packages will rise 13 to 29 percent.

Some child care programs appeared to show a 13 to 23 percent hike as a result of an error, however. Ms. Brandell explained that those fees actually did not rise this time, but were reflecting a prior increase that had been left out of previous lists.

Review the staff report online for a complete list of fee adjustments.

Nonresident surcharge

How much more nonresidents should pay to participate in the city's recreation programs surfaced – briefly – during the fee discussion.

The staff report included a recommendation that the council leave the surcharge at 35 percent, much to the confusion of community members who were told by the staff that it wouldn't be discussed at last night's meeting.

Community Services Manager Cherise Brandell told the Almanac in an email prior to the meeting that the recommendation was "boiler plate language that appears every year in the master fee schedule staff report." The topic would not be discussed at the council meeting, she said, and the staff was not recommending any changes.

Should the issue "be explicitly brought up by a Council member or a community member tonight, we are prepared to say that the subject is under review by the Parks and Rec Commission and that we will be returning in the fall with their recommendation," Ms. Brandell wrote.

It did come up. Councilman Peter Ohtaki thanked staff for explaining in the report that the surcharge is necessary, and asked whether there was a way to study changing the one-week registration delay for nonresidents so that people living in unincorporated Menlo Park could register sooner, "but still have to pay the higher fee."

Staff said that industry practice was to provide priority registration for residents, but that policy will be reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Commission this fall.

Later, Mr. Cline asked, "(For) our nearby residents, who aren't citizens: Is it a fair deal if you're two blocks out of the city to pay that much more?" He suggested the city provide an analysis of the rationale for that decision for the benefit of the public's understanding.

Still later, as the thrust of the conversation segued into a discussion of how the city knows when Menlo Park's fees have hit the right level to compete in the marketplace, Mr. McIntyre noted, "When nonresidents are upset because they can't get into our services, that's a great position to be in."

Jon Kossow, who lives in unincorporated Menlo Park, has asked the city to reconsider its surcharge and waiting period policy. He wasn't able to attend or watch the council meeting, he said, but told the Almanac on Wednesday that his level of frustration was high, given that people were told the next step was a review by the Parks and Recreation Commission this fall, "and then to be blindsided by this topic (arising) last night."

"My concern is that no one really wants to engage in a discussion on if there are any better solutions to the issue, as it's just easier for everyone to stay with the status quo," Mr. Kossow said. Interest appears minimal in doing an actual financial analysis of alternatives that could lead to increased revenue for the city, he added.

"I have offered myself up several times to dig in and help out and no one seems interested in continuing or broadening the dialogue."

Erin Glanville, who has blogged about the surcharge policy, said inequities in how the extra fees are applied hurt contractors who run recreation programs and lower participation, since some families can't afford the cost. "I don't know why anyone from the city would feel that is 'great.'"

She hopes the city accepts Mr. Kossow's offer to find a "win-win" solution that could bring in more money for Menlo Park.

As for transparency: After asking for clarification as to whether the nonresident surcharge would be discussed at the council meeting, Ms. Glanville said she trusted the staff's response that it wouldn't be, and that the council would be informed, if the topic arose, that the Parks and Recreation Commission was investigating the issue.

"Well, the issue was discussed. (The) council only got to hear from staff on the issue because the community was not engaged," Ms. Glanville said. "It is very disappointing. I think that people who raise issues to civic leaders deserve better."

Comments

Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:29 am

Why do we bother with a city council if all they do is rubber stamp the staff on everything.


Posted by Oh Well..., a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 30, 2014 at 2:15 pm

So they are raising fees.

Menlo Park Recreation will continue to not get our business. I think 35% is way out of reach and beyond even what the market will bear. It is definitely a deterrent for our family. We attend classes in neighboring cities P & R because it is less expensive as well we utilize private business like Sports House, La Petit Baleen, Karate, My Gym, etc.

I am sure all of their programs are not full. Decreasing the NR fee would encourage increased registration as well as make Menlo Park more attractive for folks in neighboring communities to come and spend their dollars here; maybe they will grab food downtown afterward, shop at Trader Joes or even get a parking ticket ;-). Looking at the other City models listed in this article, why is Menlo so inflated? Palo Alto's is somewhere between 10-15% and Redwood City is 20% until $100 and then it looks like a flat rate of $20. Also, I find it interesting that the City charges a non-resident fee for classes outside of Menlo Park. A 35% upcharge for just taking a registration? Why wouldn't people sign up directly through those vendors?

It's also not just people who live a few blocks from the Menlo Park perimeter, it's the unincorporated folks that have children who attend the Menlo Park School district and some are in walking distance to Burgess. The 35% up-charge is a major deterrent for folks who would love to send kids to summer camp or sports activities with their friends, but are being pushed out by price.

It's not always about fees. It's also about community building and accessibility. It's sad that families who live nearby Burgess cannot all afford to attend programs. Give residents first dibs on registration, maybe only charge NR fees for building rentals, or just lower the rate, etc... but find away to make programs more accessible. An increase in participation would also translate into increased revenue.

Residents SHOULD get the benefit of being a resident, but this is just restrictive and completely out of whack with industry standards. I also have heard that a portion of Unincorporated Taxes go to City Services since they are divided by the County. I don't know the percent, but is it possible that Unincorporated Menlo is floating a bit of the City? I'd love to hear more about that.


Posted by Oh well..., a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm

I meant to say "Looking at the other City models listed in prior articles..."


Posted by smell, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Something didn't "smell" right about the "setup" in this article, so I watched that section of the meeting (around 3:35).

No council members wanted to hear the staff presentation, and there was no public comment on this issue. Council member Rich Cline clearly says, "I'll second the motion and we can discuss it.


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 30, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I hope this clarifies the sequence:

1. The staff presentation was waived for that item, at Ray Mueller's suggestion. This was also done for another item later on the agenda.

2. There was no public comment. At least two people who may have wanted to comment were told earlier in the day that the surchage was not going to be discussed last night.

3. Kirsten Keith made a motion to approve the master fee schedule. Ray Mueller then said he had some comments. Rich Cline seconded Kirsten's motion for approval and no vote was taken at that point.

4. Discussion of the fees then commenced. Usually the motion to approve and the second occurs closer to when the council is ready to vote, not before discussion occurs, at least in my observations.

Sandy


Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Sandy
Could the council actions re the item be considered improper or in violation of established procedures?


Posted by ironic, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Sandy, when you write, "council members Kirsten Keith and Rich Cline moved to approve the changes without comment", it describes the exact opposite of what happened. There was a great deal of discussion, and Rich Cline even said that he was seconding the motion so that there could be discussion, which follows Robert's rules of order.


Posted by ironic, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Sandy, who told whom this item would not be discussed? My understanding is that items on the agenda can be removed, but not restored for this very reason. We better contact Peter Carpenter and have a full investigation.


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac staff writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 30, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Neither Ms. Keith nor Mr. Cline made any comment on the fee schedule, or indicated that they had any, before moving to approve the changes. Discussion then followed, started by the other council members.

Community services staff told myself, two community members and a P&R commissioner that it would not be discussed.


Posted by disgust , a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Sandy, thank you for sticking to your guns. I just watched the recording, and Rich Cline clearly said, "I second the motion to approve the changes without comment". The post by "smell" is a complete lie, Rich Cline did not ever say, "I'll second the motion and we can discuss it". This attempt to matufacture words that were never said is disgusting, and shows a complete lack of integrity. Rich Cline should also apologize for making such a bold ad offensive statement from the dais.





Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac staff writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 30, 2014 at 10:03 pm

I can't quite make out what Mr. Cline said upon seconding the motion, but don't think he said "without comment". It may have been what 'smell' said. My point was that neither he nor Ms. Keith made any comments about the fees, or heard anyone else's, before they moved for approval. Hope that clears up any confusion with the story.


Posted by correction, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 12:14 am

Rich Cline discusses the motion from 3:47:56 to 3:54:16, and Kirsten Keith discusses the motion from 4:05:58 to 4:09:15. Web Link

Around 4:05:58, you can actually hear Keith say, "I'm still waiting to talk". Apparently, Keith had her light on during the discussion, but Mayor Mueller was improperly allowing others to chime in without being called. According to Robert's Rules of Order, members are supposed to wait until the chair (or mayor in this case) calls upon her to speak on the motion.




Posted by disgust, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 12:27 am

I was looking at the wrong link before, the link above works. Both Cline and Keith spoke on the fee schedule. This story is like the opinion piece where the Almanac goes into detail about the need for a traffic signal that had already been installed years earlier.


Posted by Grating, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 4:52 am

Raising the fees because the staff got raises? Please. Most of the workers -as in TEACHERS - in the programs mentioned are getting paid $12 an hour. The over paid and bloated City Managers (count three) and Community Service Mangers (count three) are doing cost recovery on their own salaries. Cut some of those Manager positions and there's no need to raise program fees to balance the budget. They love to blame the Unions, but the fact is most of the workers are in the City program are TEMPS. The Union teachers are getting a fraction of what the managers are making, and yet these deceitful City Managers are telling the Council and the public that it's some meager pay raises that are the cause of program rate hikes?!?! You want quality programs it's about retaining the teachers and those doing the heaving lifting - the City is throwing away it's money on Directors salaries - the same ones that continue to mislead the City Council and come up with schemes to fleece City Residents, deflect blame and scapegoat the teachers and other poorly paid staff. Seems to me that their only goal is to justify their over paid positions. Getting the impression that they care very little about the people in the community (incorporated/unincorporated) or the programs which they are paid to run. So disappointed that our City Council allows their shenanigans to continue.


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac staff writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 1, 2014 at 6:46 am

One last time: When they made the motion for approval and seconded it, Ms. Keith and Mr. Cline made no comment on the fee schedule. This occurred before anyone else commented on the fee schedule.

Later, once the other council members started the discussion, they commented.


Posted by Ray Mueller, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 1, 2014 at 7:23 am

Neighbors,

As I have been informed that members of the public and press were told prior to the City Council meeting that somehow non-resident fees would not be discussed at the City Council meeting, although the topic was contained in the staff report, I have made the decision to reset that issue for public comment. I greatly appreciate hearing all the comments the public may have on this issue and also welcome emails in advance of the meeting.

With respect to the Robert's Rules of Order comment above, I think it is important to clarify that there are times in the meeting I will let dialogue occur, especially between staff and the Council, to allow for a deeper discourse and discussion. Prior to Councilmember Keith speaking, Councilmember Carlton and City Attorney McClure were engaged in dialogue of back and forth. It seemed appropriate to allow that dialogue to occur without interrupting and demanding that they have me call on them during their back and forth, interjecting like a third person in a tennis match. During the discussion Ms. Carlton was leaning forward, so I simply didn't see Ms. Keith's light turn on to call on her immediately after the discussion ended. It's an art and not a science to allow such discussion to occur. But that being said I am always looking for ways to improve, and the comment is noted and appreciated.

Thank you,
Ray




Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 1, 2014 at 8:04 am

Thank you Mayor Meuller:

BTW, enjoy your junket to China; I'm quite sure you will gather tons of useful info and business for our fair city while enjoying the wonders of China.


Posted by Ray Mueller, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 1, 2014 at 8:22 am

Thanks Old Timer.

The great news is since the trip was announced, the story has run in national Chinese press both in the United States and abroad. I have already been contacted by both the City of Luan, and a District of Beijing, who are both interested in becoming sister cities with Menlo Park. Both want to set up incubators in Menlo Park with multiple companies.

There should be ample opportunity to build both cultural and business exchanges while on the trip.

I realize your comment was probably sarcastic, but I am looking forward to promoting our City as destination for foreign capital, as that can only expand and diversifying the City's tax base. Remember it was not that long ago are City was facing budget deficits.

If you have any specific concerns, feel free to contact me, and I'd be happy to sit down and discuss them over coffee.




Posted by Ray Mueller, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 1, 2014 at 8:26 am

(laughter - I should have reread before I published the last post - the edited and spellchecked version below)

Thanks Old Timer.

The great news is since the trip was announced, the story has run in national Chinese press both in the United States and abroad. I have already been contacted by both the City of Luan, and a District of Beijing, who are both interested in becoming sister cities with Menlo Park. Both want to set up incubators in Menlo Park with multiple companies.

There should be ample opportunity to build both cultural and business exchanges while on the trip.

I realize your comment was probably sarcastic, but I am looking forward to promoting our City as destination for foreign capital, as that can only expand and diversify the City's tax base. Remember it was not that long ago our City was facing budget deficits.

If you have any specific concerns, feel free to contact me, and I'd be happy to sit down and discuss them over coffee.


Posted by Grating, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 8:28 am

As Ms. Glanville points out, the contractors who run classes for the City are having a difficult time filling classes when the City requires them to charge non residents a much higher rate - 35% higher. Not typical for other Cities in our area..or any area. Additionally, contractors are only paid a percentage on what the resident fees are - any excess paid by the non residents goes 100% to the City. Makes one wonder if City Management is intentionally jacking up prices for Childcare and Gymnastics care as part of a larger scheme to push for contracting out those City programs. Get people complaining about fees first, push out long term valued employees, hire inexperienced and incompetent temps in their place in order to create a perfect storm. What's it going to take to get some honest leadership here in the City of Menlo Park?


Posted by context, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 9:33 am

Ms. Glanville has an axe to grind with Team Sheeper, so you need put her comments into context.

Ms. Brundage is determined to write an article that is misleading but technically accurate by her own tortured logic.


Posted by Grating, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 9:48 am

I can't speak for Ms. Glanville, but my guess is that if she's grinding an AX it's with the City Staff who never put Sheeper's contract out to bid. And reporters like Ms. Brundage are just exposing the truth - something City Staff seem all too happy to hide from the public. Your context may vary.


Posted by two birds, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 10:38 am

This first issue is cost recovery. If you raise fees too high, enrollment will drop off and only the rich will be to take advantage of the programs. The next issue is about open government. Residents don't have time to attend these meetings that run until 1am, the city doesn't want to spend money on generating complete minutes, and the Almanac doesn't have the resources to pay a reporter to sit through a six hour meeting.

You can kill two birds with one stone. Simply raise program fees until you you clear another $100K per year. Enrollment will decline, but the extra $100K can buy full page ads for these programs in the Almanac. The city can even negotiate this up front the same way Palo Alto did in 2010 (Web Link).


Posted by red herring, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 1, 2014 at 11:06 am

"If you raise fees too high, enrollment will drop off and only the rich will be to take advantage of the programs"

not a problem if the complaint is access before they fill up or sell out.

Seems this is a lot of folks OUTSIDE the town complaining. What happened to personal responsibility? You made your choice to not live in MP.


Posted by Veritas, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm

While Mr. Mueller is "drumming up business" in China, he's ignoring the incremental revenue opportunity under his nose from the proposed exploration of changes to the unincorporated fee schedule and wait period. The city seems unwilling to engage in a productive and analytical discussion around revenue lift and community support and involvement, in favor of conquering foreign lands ... how ludicrous and offensive to all local residents.


Posted by ludicrous, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Veritas, no other council member is doing more to drum up interest is economic development than Mayor Mueller. The trip to China is an opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with other mayors on that trip.


Posted by Veritas, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 1, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I can't believe I have to even reply to this, but ludicrous, do said other Mayors not have telephones? Where would it be more productive to discuss potential economic benefits to Menlo Park - in the US or in China? Collaboration doesn't require a boondoggle to Asia ... at taxpayers expense. Maybe if he didn't spend so much money flying to China, the city would have more reasonable unincorported fees such that they wouldn't need to make up for his extravagances.


Posted by Taxpayer expenseAfter lunch, take meetings with key city staff, who will explain the Public Works, T, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Per press reports, no tax payer funds are being spent on Mueller's trip to China.
Veritas, you should check your facts before you sling mud.


Posted by Shame on You, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 2, 2014 at 7:18 am

Why does the Almanac delete posts about Erin Glanvile's bias in these matters.

She is not a reporter. She states her opinion.

Her opinions are biased because of her association with Solo acquatics and against Team Sheeper.

What a newspaper!!


Posted by Grating, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 2, 2014 at 8:15 am

Shame on You, everyone gets to express their opinions here. And sure, everyone has a bias - clearly you do as well. The Almanac is doing a great job and allowing people to express their opinons. Some like Ms. Glanville even use their real names and then have to deal with the backlash from people like you.


Posted by confused, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I've been going over the "usual process" that Sandy described, but then she doesn't say that the process was unusual. She says it didn't go like clockwork, which it not the same as unusual. I assume the process should not go like clockwork, or there would be no need for city council to vote. It is unclear why she attempted to suggest that Keith a Cline did not make any comments, or if making and seconding a motion is improper.


Posted by no joke, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 4, 2014 at 3:29 pm

OK, I figured out the joke. The subhead reads , "Council asks to examine cost recovery policy". Sandy is suggesting that the council members have never seen this information before when this is not the case unless they show up to the meeting without reading their materials. Mayor Mueller does protest that he' d like to have some discussion, but as the chair of the meeting the mayor is only protesting to himself. The chair of the meeting is expected to ask, "is there any discussion?", after a motion is seconded and before calling for a vote. That is the joke, the only council member that asked the examine the cost recovery before the vote was the chair of the meeting.


Posted by Greg, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 4, 2014 at 10:58 pm

More money for city staff. That is the main reason city government exists.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

September food and drink goings on
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,492 views

College Freshmen: Avoiding the Pitfalls
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,292 views

Camp Glamp
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 1,153 views

Council election, and then some.
By Stuart Soffer | 6 comments | 490 views

Those Constantly Pulling the Race Card
By Martin Lamarque | 0 comments | 53 views