http://mv-voice.com/square/print/2010/04/05/council-to-discuss-1-million-in-fee-hikes


Town Square

Council to discuss $1 million in fee hikes

Original post made on Apr 5, 2010

To help fix a projected $4 million budget deficit this year, the City Council on Tuesday plans to consider asking those who use city services to pay more for them.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, April 5, 2010, 12:57 PM

Comments

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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm

If the city is going to raise fees for Aquatics, how about only raising the Senior rates?

For a MV resident, 25 swims for a non-senior currently costs $52.50. For a senior, that price is $15, or about 29% of the regular price.

Source: Web Link


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Posted by the299crew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Note to Council - We are already all 'revenued' out. Spend less.


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Posted by let'sgetreal
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I agree with the299crew, SPEND LESS, just like I do.


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I'm ok with an increase in fees, if its accompanied with cooresponding cuts in operating budgets. What I am against is a continue increase in fees as the go-to solution for systemic mismanagement of existing funds (ie San Francsico budgeting).

There is a systemic problem with the City as it stands, that will not go away and will continue to grow if let unchecked/ignored, no matter how many fee increases are implemented: the negotiated union contracts representing city employees, fire, and police departments.

Labor rates, pensions, and other contractual benefits that these groups get from their unions is costing the City, County and State more and more money each year, and seem to be out of touch with the realities of the competitive marketplace.

I don't advocate a total reversal of these policies, but that they be moderated so that the system that accomodates them is sustainable, with the City budget on a consistent basis, without requiring infusions by increased fees.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:32 pm

How about charging non-Mountain View resident a fee to use the Shoreline Park? Also, it's just wrong to forgo a lot of revenue to protect just one business. Here is another fine example of protecting one business while asking all Mountain View residents to pay an additionl 2% in water rate.

About the 2% increase in water rate to residents, does this apply to the business as well? I hate to think the 2% increase is going to hit the schools causing more programs to be cut.

Council really needs to have the guts to discuss out of control pension cost with the unions. This type of small increases and budget cuts will continue forever if the biggest expenses - pension - are not dealt with. It's just not possible for existing residents to support a growing population of retired employees, especially with the longer average life span.


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Posted by @299crew
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I hear you about being all "revenued" out. However, as the article states, 1/2 of the money will come because of cost cuts they are doing; 1/4 will be from employee compensation cuts; and the last 1/4 in new revenue.

Believe me, I cannot afford to spend more. But, on the other hand, none of us can afford LESS from our city - less police, less fire-fighters, longer 911 response times.

I think they are doing the very best in a bad situation. I know that the following year is going to be worse for schools, so I can only imagine that the City budget is also going to get worse.

We all need to hold on and stay patient.


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Posted by JLS
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Why do the city employees get such good retirement packages while the rest of us have to live off our 401(k) plan? Isn't it time to be a bit more realistic? One can work for the city for a certain number of years, collect a very good pension and get another job with a good salary until social security kicks in--all the time not contributing to the pension which is on the back of the rest of the tax-payers. My 401(k) came out of my salary.


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:51 pm

What's alarming is that to maintain the existing level of service is going to require more and more money because of pensions. That is why its the 800 lbs gorilla in the room. The money that goes to pensions and other benefits afforded to retirees does not contribute to the enhancement or sustainability of services now.

Abuse of the current system, like cashing out vacation right before retiring to increase pension payouts, or consulting for the City for the same services provided in a former position, while still receiving a pension and medical benefits suggests we are not getting our money's worth either. I'm not saying all City employees are dishonest, just that by making these benefits locked in as part of a contract and then not bargaining for advantage is money down the drain, and leaves the City little options other than adding more fees.


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Posted by read up
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

the city is also proposing to cut many jobs around 20-30, some are currently filled with people, that means layoffs.

please read up on public sector pensions. the employees have to contribute out of their paychecks towards the pension and city of mountain view does not conbribute to social security. if an employee were to be eligible for ss due to other employement or a spouse, there is a windfall provision which reduces the ss payments.

mountain view is one of the most fisically reponsible cities around. residents and visitors should thank their lucky stars for such a great city with great services, many of them that have been free (no fee) for years.


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Posted by with "read up"
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 5, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I agree with "read up." The whole country is in a financial hole, not just Mountain View. We have good city employees. Abuses should be stopped but these people have worked hard for generally less than equivalent private business jobs pay, at least until recently, and deserve a secure retirement.


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Posted by Shawn L
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 5, 2010 at 6:10 pm

It's just so easy to attack pensions and wages of public workers--like they made a killing at the public's expense over the years and should now be punished in retirement for their "greedy" years of service to you--service that has apparently been taken for granted all these years.

It's ridiculous, people. If you want to follow the logic, let's just set up fees for services across the board. (A libertarian dystopia) Pay for a library card, pay to get into Rancho San Antonio, Shoreline, et al., pay to use parks and the "public" toilets. And if you can't afford it, well, t.s., eliot.

Traditionally, if revenue didn't cover the costs to operate public services, taxes were increased. But nobody wants to pay more in taxes, even if it's just a little more from all of us to benefit us all. (I am thinking of the Salinas library before the Hollywood golfers bailed 'em out. A half-cent sales tax increase was defeated in 2005!) So suck it up and pay to play...and vote to raise taxes on the top-income earners and businesses to help Mountain View cover the costs of these great resources.

I guess it's just the Grover Norquist tide still coming in. How bad are we going to let it get?



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Posted by Robert
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Consider this: in these tough economic times MV has spent close to $20 MILLION on land at Moffett and 101; close to $2 MILLION on a church on Escuela Ave; close to $10 MILLION on a new fire station by Shoreline park; and now $200,000 on high speed rail consultants? We're talking well over $30 MILLION DOLLARS on nonessential items. If this doesn't outrage you I don't know what will. Think about where the real problem lies before you bash city employees. Mountain View's "leadership" want the citizens to believe it's firefighters and police breaking the bank but in reality it's irresponsible spending and backwards priorities at City Hall.


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Posted by Dominick
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 9:42 pm

To go along with the comments from Robert. How about the millions the city paid on the trail and bridges. The trail is certainly a non-esential item. I fall back on my past comments when spending money there are the three questions. 1. Must Have, 2. Should have and 3. Would be nice to have. Mountain View city council has spent millions on #3 Would be nice to have, things.


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Posted by Suggestion
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:53 pm

In addition to theoretical responses let's form a group to research these ideas and present the residents cost savings plan to the city.


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Posted by BD
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:58 am

Pensions aren't something the city council can change in the short term.

I would like to see fees more in line with what it costs to provide services, though I'm curious what kind of "police services" are provided on a for-hire basis!

I agree with the earlier commenter about the extra-generous subsidies provided to senior swimmers. I'd suggest the council smooth the prices out for activities that all ages participate in, and continue to provide a strong suite of subsidized activities at the senior center. Why should someone a few weeks away from a "magic" birthday pay triple the price of someone a few weeks older?


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I took your advice, and read up:

1. "the city is also proposing to cut many jobs around 20-30, some are currently filled with people, that means layoffs."

With an employee base of 600, a reduction in force of 30 would represent a 5% reduction in the organization. Relative to the carnage the private sector is experiencing in layoffs recently, I'd say that's not bad. Also, equating cuts in jobs with layoffs is not always accurate. As it stands, Mountain View has 15 positions available that are unfunded. Elimination of those positions means they won't be offered, no one is being fired from those positions.

2. "please read up on public sector pensions. the employees have to contribute out of their paychecks towards the pension and city of mountain view does not conbribute to social security. if an employee were to be eligible for ss due to other employement or a spouse, there is a windfall provision which reduces the ss payments."

You are sort of correct. Select employees that qualify for PERS, the pension plan Mountain View uses, are not eligible for SS. However, as a defined benefit plan, public employees contribute a fixed amount every month into the fund (5-9%), while the City kicks in the remainder (91-95%), every month. Compare that with a standard 401K or SS where you put in the 95% of funds, and MAYBE the company matches your contributions by 5%, and its easy to see who's plan I'd rather have. And if you are comparing PERS to SS, the comparison is even more lopsided.

Here is more information on how the PERS pension plan afforded public employees compared to private plans:

Web Link

3. "mountain view is one of the most fisically reponsible cities around. residents and visitors should thank their lucky stars for such a great city with great services, many of them that have been free (no fee) for years."

I certainly agree that Mountain View has been fiscally wise relative to its peers, and that the services we receive are excellent. That does not however, justify not looking into how services need to be modified to fit a budget. The City recognizes this challenge:

Here is a link to a presentation made to City Council concerning the looming budget challenges this City faces:

Web Link

This presentation tells me several things:

1. We have a long term problem with pension plans and retirement health benefits being the main drivers. Just to clarify, public employees have 2 health plans, one for when they are working, and another that kicks in after they retire, that remains until death.

2. The largest drivers in the forecasted budget through 2013 is carryover from the previous year deficit and increase costs due to employee benefits.

3. This deficit increases every year until 2013 to a maximum $9.5 million deficit in the budget. In engineering terms, what you have is a feedback loop that is continuously increasing the imbalance in the system. In laymen's terms, unless something is done to change this pattern, it will spiral out of control.

Finally, the presentation tells me that the City is fully informed of the challenges ahead, and is choosing to allocate resources to address it. This bodes well, and I hope they continue to pursue and succeed in maintaining a budget that is in line with residents expectations and sustainable in the long term.

The point is, the situation calls for everything to be considered: we pay more, we get less, probably both. When times were good, it may have made sense to bulk up the union contracts to compensate employees. However, when times are bad, it makes just as much sense to pare down accordingly.


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Posted by the299crew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I sure hope the City Council reads these comments. I don't plan to go to the meeting this time. However, I did go to the one where they opened up the discussion on the proposed Minton's redevelopment and I stayed way past midnight. It seems that some on the council may be quick to jump in to the highest-density-possible ring, while essentially handing the property owners a huge (Prop. 13 basis, now redeveloped as never imagined) tax subsidy and property value bonus, all at the expense of the real tax payers in town. I hope they wise up. The usual smart thing is to just vote "No."


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Posted by Fron
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm

How about cutting cost to balance the budget rather than raising fees?
Is that such a novel idea?


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Posted by Shawn L
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

From your link, the concluding paragraph says it all:

"Although it seems like public sector employees are making out like bandits, that is far from the truth for the vast majority of retirees. In 2005, the average CalPERS monthly benefit was $1,673.82. Although that's a good amount, it won't pay for a life of luxury. The reason for the low monthly benefit is because public employee unions negotiate a generous pension in exchange for salaries that are far below those in the private sector, which is used to determine the monthly PERS benefit."

It appears that you want to flip this around to suggest that the public employees are milking the system. It just isn't true. A good reason for taking a public job--at a lower salary--is the benefits.

I don't work for the city, but I do work for California and I can tell you that we have a hard time recruiting for high tech positions because our salary is so low (even today!). People in the private sector make nearly double what we offer. The benefits, including health care, are about all we have to get people in for interviews.

Hard times require sacrifice by all. That's why I believe in higher taxes and modifying prop 13. This is no time to starve government and modestly remunerated government workers.


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Posted by Cuesta Park mom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I read in an earlier article that a $90 fee was being considered for removal of heritage trees. I disagree with this, because I wouldn't want someone to hesitate to have a diseased tree in danger of falling removed due to this fee. Remember in San Jose, when a toddler was killed when a street tree fell on him?


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Posted by Not an expert, but...
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm

"However, as a defined benefit plan, public employees contribute a fixed amount every month into the fund (5-9%), while the City kicks in the remainder (91-95%), every month."

Where did you get this from? Please look at: Web Link, look under Employer PERS Rate and PERS Employee Share. The majority of employees contribute more than 9% towards their pension. It's a fixed amount until the City asks the employee to pick up more of the cost - "cost share". The City also pays a % towards the pensions. PERS invests those dollars in attempts to gain enough money to cover the retirement obligations. The City is not 100% funding pensions.

I see the logic with most of the posts here. Something needs to be done across the board. Simply bashing the employees is not fair nor is it going to fix the problem.


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Posted by steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2010 at 4:00 pm

@readup: There is no such thing as "free" somebody somewhere is paying for it.

As far as Mtn View being fiscally responsible: 100K for HSR images (Web Link) on top of 100K for HSR consultants? I wouldn't call that fiscally responsible.





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Posted by @sheldon
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 6, 2010 at 4:25 pm

"You are sort of correct. Select employees that qualify for PERS, the pension plan Mountain View uses, are not eligible for SS. However, as a defined benefit plan, public employees contribute a fixed amount every month into the fund (5-9%), while the City kicks in the remainder (91-95%), every month. Compare that with a standard 401K or SS where you put in the 95% of funds, and MAYBE the company matches your contributions by 5%, and its easy to see who's plan I'd rather have. And if you are comparing PERS to SS, the comparison is even more lopsided"
1. employees pay a fixed 8% in lieu of the SS 7%
2. Most MV employees pay a more than the fixed rate do to negotiations
3. The City pays the remainder but it does not equal 100%; rather it is a rate that Calpers provide. Some years are lower than others. In previous years in has been cheaper than ss payments. Usually it is equal or near equal to what the employee pays. Same as SS except the employee pays more.You seem confused but the city does not need to fully fund the retirement every pay period.
4.This is not a 401k government employees cannot have 401k.



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Posted by Thom
a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Sketches for sale

Futuristic view of baylands - $43K
Futuristic view of castro street - $36K
Futuristic view of air powered cars - $49K


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 9:31 am

The information I quoted was from the link provided above that describes the PERS program. It is entirely possible that Mountain View has negotiated different rates, which I'm not aware of.

However, this is not the main point that I'm trying to make:

Benefits of public employees are vastly better than those of the private sector. Though one may argue its to compensate for lower salaries, the costs to the employer (ie the City) has been rising, due in part to the increase in Healthcare costs, to the point that it has become the single largest driver of increasing deficits in the City budget.

In other words, they aren't cost effective anymore. This isn't about public servants "stealing" from the till, its about reevaluating compensation to public employees as part of the solution for dealing with a budget that is not balanced. As I've stated repeatedly, increased fees and less service should also be considered. However, so should decreased compensation. This is no different than what people outside of public service has been dealing with their whole working career. Why is there such resistance to even the thought of paring down benefits and compensation to public employees, when everyone else goes thru that reality?

Unions in the auto industry have seen how their narrow-minded resistance to concessions of their member's benefits and wages helped paved the way to keeping those benefits, at the expense of the collapse of the industry and the loss of thousands of union jobs.

Everyone gives a little, and we all win.


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Posted by Dan
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 10:05 am

Why does City Hall continue to spend money on land and non-essential items? Sure the Stevens Creek Trail is "nice" but how many millions did the tunnel under El Camino at highway 85 cost? $200,000 for high speed rail consultants? $30 million dollars on land and buildings? It sure seems like City Hall is asking a lot of citizens and city employees but it's tough to handle in the face of all these expenditures. Stop blaming city employees and question the people that are supposed to be running the City.


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Posted by get on with it!
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Thanks goodness City staff started early on the budget! Having to explain everything over and over again to council is ridiculous.
Council again, doesn't want to make any decisions so they send the staff back to the drawing boards to strategize on info they already have.
Leave senior and resident rates alone and raise rates on non-residents. Doesn't council visit other park sites like baylands in Sunnyvale - they charge and charge steeply for a walk in their park.
Mitchell park in Palo Alto is another park that charges for non-residents.


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Posted by Ben
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Must read:

The $2 Trillion Hole. Promised pensions benefits for public-sector employees represent a massive overhang that threatens the financial future of many cities and states.

Web Link.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ben
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Search "The $2 Trillion Hole" on Barron's


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm

"Why does City Hall continue to spend money on land and non-essential items? Sure the Stevens Creek Trail is "nice" but how many millions did the tunnel under El Camino at highway 85 cost? $200,000 for high speed rail consultants? $30 million dollars on land and buildings? It sure seems like City Hall is asking a lot of citizens and city employees but it's tough to handle in the face of all these expenditures. Stop blaming city employees and question the people that are supposed to be running the City."

-----------------------

A City's primary focus is to improve the quality of life of its residents and businesses, encouraging prosperity and vitality. Public employees serve to support the initiatives and systems that support that focus. It is not to sustain its own employees. With that in mind, it is entirely acceptable, and I'd argue a fiduciary responsibility for a City to maintain cost control, especially if what is threatening its budget is it's own operating expenses. If a City were to instead focus on maintaining its employees as its primary goal, it is no longer serving the public interest.

The money spent on "land and other non-essential items" as you call them, actually serve the primary goal of making Mountain View a better place to live, work, and conduct business. How do I know that these things are worthy? Not because I have an opinion that they are, but because past performance of this City's decisions to spend money have resulted in Mountain View being very successful in attracting the type of businesses and residents that continue to make this a great place to live. The proof is in the results generated.

If you are proposing that we now stop doing all those things that contribute to building Mountain View into a city for the future, and instead concentrate those monies into preserving a system of employee compensation that is proving to be antiquated, susceptible to abuse, not performance-based, and unsustainable at a city, county and state level, then you're missing the forest for the trees.

The boom times and bust times of the last 10 years should be teaching us all something: financial responsibility must be maintained, regardless of what we want, we need to have the money to pay for it, before we spend it.


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Posted by Carl
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm

"The boom times and bust times of the last 10 years should be teaching us all something: financial responsibility must be maintained, regardless of what we want, we need to have the money to pay for it, before we spend it."

___________________

$30 million dollars on the items stated above is not "financial responsibility" in this economic climate. If you cannot balance your budget you should not be spending on these items, it's as simple as that.


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Posted by Sid
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Let's see how much "prosperity" and "vitality" the residents have without quality city employees. It's you that is "missing the forest for the trees".


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Posted by Jim
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm

"Why does City Hall continue to spend money on land and non-essential items? Sure the Stevens Creek Trail is "nice" but how many millions did the tunnel under El Camino at highway 85 cost? $200,000 for high speed rail consultants? $30 million dollars on land and buildings? It sure seems like City Hall is asking a lot of citizens and city employees but it's tough to handle in the face of all these expenditures. Stop blaming city employees and question the people that are supposed to be running the City."

Compared to the generous salaries and pensions, I'm guessing the citizens/tax payers won't complain about their hard earned tax dollars on improvements to their infrastructure of the city.


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 10:19 pm

"$30 million dollars on the items stated above is not "financial responsibility" in this economic climate. If you cannot balance your budget you should not be spending on these items, it's as simple as that."
----------------

It's not clear where this quoted $30 million dollars referenced comes from, but looking at the presentation here

Web Link

it is clearly not included in the City's operating budget. Most likely, these funds came from a capital improvements budget designated specifically for purchasing assets to grow Mountain View's infrastructure and for future investments.

Any accounting department would tell you grabbing funds from a capital budget to pay down deficits in your operating budget is a bad idea. You are covering up a problem that will only come back the next year, and as the data suggests, in spades. You also set a precedent that robbing Peter to pay Paul is acceptable, especially harmful when doing so puts potential harm on Mountain View's future, in order to bandage a problem that doesn't address the root cause.

But you can certainly cite examples of this type of budgeting: The State of California has been doing this for years, shifting money back and forth to fire-fight a budget that has structural problems, which are coincidentally also driven partially by public employee pension and benefit costs.

Care to know how this has worked out for the State so far?

Web Link


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Posted by Mr. E. Nuff
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Sure, charge to get in Shoreline. Michael's could "validate" and add 50 cents to each meal/drink
The really great NON THINKING part of this "Pay To Play" fee is.. Ta Ta... The 200,000.00 (pick a number) salary for the gate-keepers.. Will the park be free or closed at nite, or will we have three shifts of money collectors to be on the City Rolls plus their pension costs..
Come on Council.. Close the damn pools, add 5 bucks to Shoreline Tickets, Charge another 5 bucks to play golf.

Oh yeah,charge for downtown parking (add another person or two for collecting those fees) watch the sales go to Sunnyvale and Los Altos, etc.
Get your head out... cut the costs, cut the spending. DON'T raise TAXES (that's what FEES are)... Don't you get it ?? That's ok, cuz the Feds don't get it either... Watch this next election cycle. Fed, State and LOCAL...


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Posted by Seldon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm

"Let's see how much "prosperity" and "vitality" the residents have without quality city employees. It's you that is "missing the forest for the trees".

----------------

It's quite ironic, but if you were to replace the words "city employees" in your comment above with "Wall Street Bankers", or "CEO's", you would see the similarity in logic used to justify bonuses during the financial crisis, and golden parachutes.

Though quality employees do make a difference in any organization, management of their compensation in hard times is a fact of life and very necessary in this case, since its their pay and benefits that are having the main drag on the operating budget. Even great performing companies with great employees manage compensation, and this does not cause them to fail, nor employees to leave in droves.

Google did not decide to set down in Mountain View primarily because of quality city employees. Families don't live here primarily because of quality city employees. The city's infrastructure and leadership, quality schools and neighborhoods, a vibrant downtown, proximity to great universities, and transportation corridors play much more in those decisions.

As I pointed out earlier, I don't advocate the stripping of benefits or massive layoffs. Just that there is acknowledgment and action that employee benefits and pensions are a part of the problem, and need to be part of the solution.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:04 am

Seldon, Thanks for your view points and well detailed explanation. We all benefit from factual base dialog.


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Posted by the299crew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Mr. E Nuff - Obviously we think alike, However, I don't think the locals here have the smarts to vote the rascals out.