Council sets the stage for major budget cuts

Police services, library hours, water rates among the items being reassessed by city officials to close $5 million deficit

Mountain View residents and city employees responded en masse to the prospect of city budget cuts, packing the City Council chambers Tuesday night until there was nowhere left to stand.

Council members said they had received more than 100 e-mails that afternoon alone from people concerned about a list, released by the city manager last Thursday, which outlined potential cuts to various city services. The list includes potential cuts to police and library services, cutting off funds to local nonprofits, possibly closing Deer Hollow Farm and a possible 2 percent increase in water rates.

City manager Kevin Duggan said the potential cuts might appear to be severe because the city exhausted its options for less painful cuts last year.

By June, the City Council must sift through the potential cuts, which total somewhere between $3.3 million and $4.3 million, to find about $2 million in savings. The city hopes to find other ways — including $1 million in new revenue and $1 million in employee compensation cuts — to fill the rest of an estimated $5 million deficit in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The cuts could mean the elimination of 37 employee positions, about 24 of which are currently filled. Duggan said 80 percent of the city budget is employee compensation costs.

The list of potential cuts includes eliminating or partially cutting funds to 13 local nonprofits and services, such as the Day Worker Center and the Community Services Agency, to save up to $272,000. Council members Jac Siegel and Laura Macias defended the city's funding of local nonprofits, with Macias saying that those services are needed more than ever during a recession.

One resident expressed frustration that some of the wealthiest companies in the world, which are based in Mountain View, could not provide the city more tax revenue.

"The amount of money we are talking about here is a rounding error for Google," he said. "Just because (Google) is not selling physical things, we don't get the same revenue of an Ikea or Walmart. That's insane."

One item on the list is the city's $110,000 share of funding to Deer Hollow Farm at Rancho San Antonio, which is actually on county land in the hills above Los Altos and Cupertino. If the city cuts that funding, staffers said, it could lead to the full closure of the demonstration farm enjoyed by hundreds of schoolchildren every year.

The meeting was attended by many button-wearing Deer Hollow supporters, including Sue Gale, president of Friends of Deer Hollow Farm, who said the city's funding is matched by 80 volunteers working for free to give tours of the farm every year at a value of at least $100,000. Most council members agreed it was time to ask neighboring cities to help Mountain View and the county fund Deer Hollow Farm, and Gale agreed.

After residents, city employees and nonprofit representatives spoke in defense of their many programs and services, council member Tom Means said, "Everyone thinks their program is essential, but tell me what isn't."

On the block

The list of potential city cuts includes:

■ About $1.4 million in cuts to the Police Department, including the loss of an unspecified number of low-level police officers, or "community service officers," to save $785,300. Several other administrative assistant positions would be cut as well. Among the impacts if those cuts are made, the department says, is that about 100 crime victims a year would not have their cases investigated. Interaction with the public may be handled increasingly by automated phone services and reports taken on the Internet.

■ Eliminating city funding of $272,000 for 13 local nonprofits and services, including the Community School of Music and Arts, the Community Services Agency, the Day Worker Center, Health Trust, Junior Achievement, Mayview Community Center, Project Sentinel, Catholic Charities long term care ombudsman, Santa Clara Family Health Foundation, Support Network for Battered Women, a youth sports fee waiver and Parents Helping Parents.

■ Reducing library hours by six to eight hours a week could save $150,000, while library staff, services and program cuts could save another $93,000. Parking the bookmobile and reducing the budget for new materials could save another $147,000.

■ Reducing code enforcement services by 50 percent to save $110,000, which means code enforcement would focus solely on life safety and zoning issues. "Neighborhood preservation" complaints, such as front yard storage, weeds, signs and private property parking complaints, would go largely unanswered.

■ Elimination of the city's dedicated shopping cart/graffiti abatement program would save $54,700 a year.

■ Cutting park ranger hours to pre-2007 levels would save $111,700 and result in less enforcement of park rules at Cuesta and Rengstorff parks and an increased need for police patrols there.

■ The Police Activities League could lose all of its $25,000 in funds for a dedicated Police Department staffer.

■ Chinese and Russian language interpreters at city meetings would lose their $12,800 budget, which could eliminate those services or make them volunteer-only.

■ Eliminating the city's dedicated weed abatement program, saving $105,200, would result in more weeds in city parks and medians.

■ A combined restructuring of the city manager's office and the Employee Services Department would save up to $150,000.

■ Reducing tree trimming of the city's 28,000 trees, or transferring maintenance of 12,800 street trees to property owners, would save up to $325,000. The report says the city could lose its "Tree City USA" status.

In addition to these proposed cuts, the city is considering raising water rates on residents by 2 percent, saving the city government $300,000 on its own water bills.

The council has until June to pass a final city budget.

Reasons for deficit

The city's costs are increasing by about $4 million every year, officials say, mainly due to rising employee compensation costs — increasingly expensive pensions, retirement health benefits and contractual cost-of-living adjustments.

For now, however, the city is unable to significantly contain those costs, council members say, as only the Police Department's union contract is up for renegotiation this year.

The remaining city employees are largely represented by three other unions, which have contracts up for renegotiation in June 2011. Duggan said the city could save $1 million a year by reducing the Fire Department's minimum staffing requirement of firefighters on duty from 21 to 19. The current staffing requirement is set in a union contract with firefighters.

In his report released last week, Duggan announced that city staffers have found $1 million in other budget savings over the last year, reducing the projected deficit from $5 million to $4 million. The $1 million in savings was found mostly in a reorganization of the Police Department for a savings of $512,000. There is also $25,000 in reduced fuel costs, $70,000 saved from contracting out an emergency medical services coordinator in the Fire Department, $170,000 in savings from paying its pension rate to the state at the beginning of the year, and $100,000 saved from renegotiating the city's purchasing contracts.

The 26-page report can be found at under City Council agendas and public records. Look for the Feb. 23, 2010 council meeting packet.


Like this comment
Posted by Time to move forward!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Now is the time! The economic meltdown we are currently buried in should be seen as an opportunity. Time to get the golden parachute squad off of our cities balance sheet. Government employment has become the worst kind of joke. If government employees were paid consistent with their private industry counterparts, we would not have this problem. I say cut all of them ASAP, and tell them to come back, sans union bs. The armageddon-esque picture that government employees paint as the consequence of cuts to their fiefdoms should be recognized for the red herrings that they are. One of every nine Californians is currently out of work. There is an enormous pool of talented people available to clean up this mess right now. Mt. View is "shovel ready."

Like this comment
Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:05 pm

AC is a registered user.

I think everyone understands that difficult cuts are needed.

But I very much question that cuts to the police department are a good idea, with crime on the rise as it has been.

Like this comment
Posted by Atziluth
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:08 pm

A $4 MM cost increase each year due to employee compensation costs is simply not sustainable.

Instead of kicking the can further down the road by temporarily fixing this year's budget, they should address this long-term threat. Unfortunately, I am not sure that they will have the courage to do so.

Like this comment
Posted by phm
a resident of The Crossings
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm

End the gridlock in Sacramento by restoring majority rule. Essential public services are threatened by the unending State budget crisis. See Web Link for information and petition for a ballot initiative to eliminate California's two-thirds rules. (I'm not working for the campaign, by the way - I just strongly agree with it.)

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I disagree with phm that Sacaramento is the problem. I see "unions" is the problem. The unions have gotten us where we are by demanding a lucrative pay, benefits, and pension for all workers. We cannot sustain this type of employee cost. I think the unions and the covered employees should step up and offer to cut their own pay, benefits, and pension so that Mountain View citizens do not have to live with service cuts - as this will be an on-going problem.

Can the city declare bankruptcy so that all contracts are null and void? Maybe then we can hire all the current unemployed who will work for market rate without union representation. This way, we will not be faced with massive out of control employee cost.

Employee cost of 80% of the entire city budget is out of control. No private enterprise would have allow employee cost to grow to 50%. Come on, union reps, step up and shown the citizens of Mountain View that you care for the city, and not just yourself.

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Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:53 pm

According to the article, it appears the largest potential savings come from renegotiation of contracts with the several unions that represent various branches of City government. The order of magnitude difference in potential dollar savings between fire/life/safety costs, and all the other fringe City Services is quite glaring.

This is the same issue the state is dealing with as well, as its union labor costs are the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

I hope Mountain View earnestly addresses this issue directly and honestly, as opposed to distract itself with the peripheral savings that can be had elsewhere. Its not an easy job, but this needs to be addressed sooner, rather than later, as these cost are projected to increase over the long term and will not go away.

Like this comment
Posted by kanank
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 24, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Cutting pubic services should be the last thing. The exec employees working for the city should take steep cuts or be fired. They are way overpaid and they are paid like execs of Forune 500 companies. They should completely eradicate all these housing allowances, downpayments , auto leasing allowances, travel perks,etc..for these employees before they bite the public i.e the ones who is paying these guys salaries. These execs and city council members are treating themselves like Sheikhs or Sultans of Middle east while we are finding hard to afford rents,medical insurance,send kids to schools,etc..Fire the entire city counctil and the managers.

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Posted by Steve Schramm
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm

It's interesting to note that the $2M in needed cuts, if spread over the 90,000 Mountain View residents, is about $22. Just twenty-two dollars more would save all these non-profits, the farm, city services -- everything. I know not everyone can afford the $22, but if even half the people in this wealthy city spent $44, the problem goes away.

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Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2010 at 5:00 pm

AC is a registered user.

I think we could all afford $22.00. And those who couldn't, I think others could and would pitch in...

... if we weren't concerned that the money would be squandered or mismanaged.

I wonder how the city would run if more people were involved in it. Every time I complain about it, I have to admit that I don't personally do a whole lot to make it better.

Like this comment
Posted by The list???
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Let’s go down that list:
1.4 million in cuts to the Police Department. Looks like the police department cut a bunch already with their reorganization. That seems like a lot. I don’t think we need to cut any police officers. What a thankless job. I could see cutting the community service officers. They have taken reports for me and they didn’t really investigate. If they are being sent to a take a report then it is more than like an insurance report or just “documenting” to keep those crime stats up. I don’t think you should ever cut administrative assistance since they are usually the back bone of any organization.
Eliminating city funding of $272,000 for 13 local nonprofits and services. These are not core services. Cut half of what you’re planning to cut and call it a day. I would give nothing to the Day Labor group. They are failing anyway. Go over to El Camino Real and San Antonio if you disagree.
Reducing library hours by six to eight hours a week could save $150,000. Go for it and get rid of the book mobile. Parents and schools should be dealing with bringing books to the students not the city.
Reducing library hours by six to eight hours a week could save $150,000. Ouch this sucks. Seems like we need more code enforcement officers to deal with issues. They need to get out and prevent issues like the elderly lady’s house before it get that bad.
Elimination of the city's dedicated shopping cart/graffiti. Go for it. Redirect code enforcement to enforce graffiti not cleaned up with fines.
Cutting park ranger hours. I am not sure what they do anyway since they don’t enforce. Go for it or get them some enforcement powers.
The Police Activities League. In these times are we really paying for this. Whatever happened to after school sports and the schools dealing with these issues. I know the schools have to cut too….Cops care guns and enforce laws not teach someone to play catch with.
Chinese and Russian language. Really? This is a service? The meetings are mostly empty anyways.
Eliminating the city's dedicated weed abatement. Don’t we have gardeners and street works already?
A combined restructuring of the city manager's office and the Employee Services Department. Go for it.
Reducing tree trimming of the city's 28,000 trees. Cut the contract and get three or four guys on the city crew that is all they do is cut trees. How hard is this. You pay that outside group way to much. I should get a truck and a buddy and go for that contract. Start at one end of the city and work my way to the other. Then repeat. Tree City USA – nobody cares.

Fire Fighter – 19 people? Are you crazy? That is not even enough to put out house fire. You may not see them working a lot but when they do it is the most demanding job out there.
Lastly – let me speak from experience. If you cut employee benefits you will loose quality people and it is more costly to replace an employee than deal with these issue. I am sure the City Manager is pumping up the numbers regarding benefits….they always do and it is the “big” theme nowadays to get unions to fight amongst themselves. In reality most government employees pay out of pocket for their benefits but the staffers never report it that way to the public. My advise…when a company like Google says they want to redevelop an area with housing and retail…you say, “No problem. Here is your permits.”

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Posted by Mr. T
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:47 pm

I've had to make personal spending cuts and delay of purchases. The city must do the same if revenue does not match expenses. To say that just $X more tax from each citizen will solve the problem just promotes the tax and spend practices of government. Our government officials need to manage and prioritize their spending just like everybody else with limited income.

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Posted by Big Al
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Obviously the answer is to tax marijuana sales. That's where the city will get the money. Prostitution should also be legalized. Oh, wait a minute, city hall ...

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Posted by Dominick
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:24 pm

The council should ask the three questions every business does when considering funding problems Answer these questions

1. Must have
2. Should have
3. Would nice to have

A lot of funding goes to ,Would Be Nice To Have, things, projects etc. But ,Must Have, must have first cut at the available funds.

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Posted by sue
a resident of Castro City
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:01 am

what happened to all the other comments that were made prior to the ones being shown now?

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Posted by sneezy
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 9:13 am

Raising taxes is wrong when people are struggling. When we were rich, it was fine to have a library open seven days a week. Keep taxes where they are; cut services.

Like this comment
Posted by localmom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

I like the idea of people who have the means voluntarily donating $22 per citizen to save some of these services. I will drop off my donation today.

Like this comment
Posted by Don Frances
Mountain View Voice Editor
on Feb 25, 2010 at 10:28 am

Don Frances is a registered user.


You might be thinking of this other comment thread here: Web Link.

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Posted by the299crew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 25, 2010 at 11:11 am

Mangling a phrase from an older NFL owner, "Just Cut Baby!"

Gosh, I hope the councilmembers read these accumulated comments and consider them when they meet in that big pink stucco building to lay down the law. ......... Please slap me, I was only dreaming.

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Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm

The police department cuts are large, but they are a large part of renegotiating 'labor contracts' which is to say the problem with excessive retirement % at younger ages (part of Pete Wilson's state legacy?). The "three prong" approach is good - but besides efficiencies - I would agree that MORE REVENUE could be balanced with MORE CUTS. Now the proposal is $2 of cuts ($2M) for every $1 of revenue increase ($1M). REVENUE increase can be 10% out of town and other user increases (say also- use excessive water, pay a 10% premium). Of all the parents who expect to keep city KID SERVICES I have not heard one that has said 5% cuts and 5% fee increases are not JUST FINE and ACCEPTABLE. We are not going to stand for these services to be dropped entirely. Just like seniors are not going to allow their services to be dropped entirely!

- 1) Must, 2) should, 3) nice does not explain how efficiencies can be wrung out of existing Must programs (Why not 90% to police and 10% to streets and sewers and sell off the rest!) Why not? Mountain View is not a majority Libertarian city.

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Posted by Mr. T
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I love localmom's idea. Make taxes voluntary!. Is that going to work? Nah.

I have a better idea, taxpayer defined payments. I get to specify what my tax dollars get used for. E.g. 40% education, 30% public safety, 10% parks and recreation, etc. All city services should be operated as break even businesses funded by the customers, e.g. water, garbage, street cleaning etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 26, 2010 at 11:42 am

Re: Sneezy

"Raising taxes is wrong when people are struggling. When we were rich, it was fine to have a library open seven days a week. Keep taxes where they are; cut services."

People are more broke than ever and you want to close the library? People are checking out their entertainment instead of spending money going out, hunting for jobs, sending resumes, learning to read, using internet they can't afford at home, and furthering their education with no expense. Thousands go in there every day for these things. At least we get a lot of bang for library bucks.

Like this comment
Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 27, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Choices – cut in services, cut in personnel, cut in salaries, cut the 20 year General Plan for growth or raise taxes.

Remember the big fight over utility taxes a few year ago. It was to support the growth of MV and pay for services.

The Mayfield Mall sales taxes (125,000/ year – big money back then) was to support growth. Taxes on HP sales when they move into the Mall were to pay for growth. Taxes on high-rise in-fill housing projects are suppose to pay for growth.

Growth does not look like it is paying off.


Like this comment
Posted by Rad G
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 4, 2010 at 1:39 am

Why does this town surrounded by other towns need 21(!) firefighters on duty at all times. This is ludicrous! Why do the outrageously generous pensions on outrageously bloated salaries (cops, firefighters)?

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2010 at 8:36 am

How much is the City spending on the land at Moffett and 101? Close to $20 MILLION DOLLARS! How much did the City spend on the church across from the senior center? Around $2 MILLION DOLLARS! How much is the City spending on a new fire station north of Bayshore? Close to $10 MILLION DOLLARS!.. and these are just the things we know about.
Don't blame the City's financial woes on it's employees, that's just what the City "leaders" want you to do. If the sky is truly falling then WHY is the City spending all of this money on property and a Taj Mahal fire station? That's what is ludicrous, not public safety staffing levels or benefits.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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