Mountain View Voice

News - April 13, 2012

Council looks to fill budget gap

A business fee hike could be in store for Google, others

by Daniel DeBolt

While discussing a recurring budget gap in a study session on Tuesday, council members called for increased fees on the city's businesses, particularly the profitable Internet companies in town.

"This $30 business charge, to the incredible companies we have, is almost insulting to them," said council member Laura Macias, referring to the city's annual business license fee, which member Jac Siegel called "antiquated" and in need of a "major overhaul."

Member Ronit Bryant also said the fee should be examined.

"When we have companies actually making a lot of money, we as a city are not sharing in that," Bryant said.

"We should be leaders with that," Siegel said of changing the fee. "Manufacturing sales taxes are gone. We have Internet companies that pay no taxes. We can't continue on like that."

Siegel said on Wednesday that Mayor Mike Kasperzak has also expressed in examining the business license fee, but no action could be taken during Tuesday's study session on the city's budget.

A majority of the seven-member council did not object to City Manager Dan Rich's proposals for fixing an estimated $1.1 million budget gap next fiscal year, which did not include changing the business license fee.

Union concessions

Rich's proposed fix involves concessions from all of the city's unions and an increasing consolidation of Mountain View's police and fire departments.

The projected deficit is blamed on sluggish revenue growth and rising employee benefit costs. The trend began several years ago, and the city has eliminated over 30 vacant jobs to help break even in the last five years. Rich says there are fewer and fewer choices for balancing the budget.

"Unfortunately, benefit costs, particularly for health care and pensions, continue to outpace revenue growth," Rich says in his report. "Compared to the current adopted budget, total revenues are anticipated to grow by $1.8 million next fiscal year and total expenditures are projected to increase $2.8 million including the growth in employee costs of 2.3 million."

The proposed fix relies mostly on $600,000 in concessions from employee unions, a $210,000 reduction in services and supplies to all departments and $91,800 in gas and electricity savings seen recently from more efficient lighting and HVAC systems in city buildings.

Combine police and fire support

Consolidating the police and fire department administrative staff to create a "fire and police support services division" could save another $100,000, according to the report. The savings comes from eliminating vacant positions and reducing overtime among police and firefighters, though the minimum number of firefighters required to be on duty would not change, Rich told the Voice.

"Just a few years ago the Police Department and Fire Department maintained separate staff within the same building to accomplish many similar responsibilities," Rich wrote. "While a savings has occurred through recent consolidation of responsibilities and positions we believe we are now uniquely positioned to make additional organizational changes that will increase capacity in both departments provide additional efficiencies and reduce costs."

The consolidated administration would provide "mutual services" to both departments, including front office phone-answering, clerical support, answering 911 calls, public outreach, personnel investigations, fiscal services such as payroll and combined management public records for both departments.

Future layoffs?

Rich does not propose to lay anyone off this year, but if union negotiations fail to yield $600,000, the City Council could draw on the first tier of a list of possible cuts taken from last year's budget process, including the loss of the fire department's public information officer, Jaime Garrett, ostensibly pushing her duties onto police spokesperson Liz Wylie. Rich said that under his proposal, Garrett's "position gets restructured" so that her responsibilities change.

Rich noted Tuesday that the police and fire departments account for 51 percent fo the budget, which is relatively low. Other cities use as much as 80 percent, Rich said.

Rich said layoffs were unlikely. He noted that last year $500,000 in union concessions were made by only two of the four city unions. This year all four have expired contracts.

"With all groups contracts open, management believes the Fiscal Year 2012-13 target ($600,000) is a fair and reasonable amount when shared across all employees," Rich wrote in the report.

A new library "restocking fee" has also been proposed for those who do not pick up books placed on hold, which could raise $3,000. Rental fee hikes for the community's center's auditorium and lower social hall and the establishment of $5 an hour rental fees for non-profits and community groups could net another $23,000.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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