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Proposed New Regulatory fee & Increased Tree and Sidewalk Assessment Taxes

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2018 16:07:36 -0700

Dear Council and Finance Management,

In Friday's (June 8, 2018) *Daily News* insert in the Mercury News, I
noticed two public hearing notices pertaining to a new fee and tax
increases. The new fee was for a "Regulatory fee" for a Storm Water
Management Program.

The proposed tax increases were 10% for "tree assessment" and 20% for
"sidewalk assessment" taxes in the overall "Landscaping Assessment
District" The public hearings will take place at the June 19, 2018 Council
meeting. These taxes might also have been raised last year.

*Improved Transparency Needed – for proposed new taxes *

These notices are easy to miss. In the future, can we have the Staff Report
on the topic ready for online searching when the Public notices are posted?
While I didn’t find the information that I was looking for, I found Staff
Report 17-114-CC which recommended tax increases last year for Tree
Assessment (3%) and Sidewalk Assessment (5%). Did these proposed tax
increases pass last year? If so, is it customary to try to increase these
taxes again so soon?

At the City’s website, I only see the Utility Tax (Finance section). For
transparency’s sake, I would like to see all Enterprise Fund taxes listed
together in one logical place.

At the City Manager’s Budget Workshop (May 29, 2018), I heard no mention of
a proposed new fee and proposed Tree and Sidewalk Assessment taxes. Nor do
I see these in the budget document. The absence seems odd. Surely the
proposed fee and tax increases have been in the planning stage for some
time. While the increases might be minor, it’s important to be forthcoming
at meetings where the public might logically expect to hear such details.
They also belong in a clearly obvious section of a proposed budget
document.

*Hard to Follow and Incomplete Capital Budget Section *

While I'm sure that a lot of hard work went into the document, I find the
proposed Capital section in the MP budget document hard to follow and
incomplete. The table of contents for the section doesn’t group the
information into the kind of categories that the general public would
expect to see. We also need more summary financial information, including a
Debt Policy and Obligation and Enterprise Fund section. The individual CIP
projects need to be better grouped with more overview information along
with increased financial specifics. For a best practice example, I suggest
Palo Alto’s Proposed Capital Budget
<https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/57409> document.
From its Table of Contents to the individual project pages, I find this
document easy to understand and follow. Further, it builds my trust in
local government – the City of Palo Alto’s local government.

*Improved Public Engagement Process Needed – Budget *

The Menlo Park proposed budget document would have been improved with more
public input, starting with at least two study sessions. The first could be
held by the F&A Committee and be focused on the budget document layout,
content, and ordering and presentation of details. The next Study Session
could be held by the City Manager and his staff and be more focused on the
numbers. Even better would be three study sessions as Atherton conducts.

Unfortunately, the City Manager’s May 29, 2018 Budget Workshop was mostly a
one-way communication because the public attending had no chance to review
the budget document before the meeting. The information presented was
mostly a high-level overview of the departments. While interesting, that
information detracted from a focus on the numbers. Instead, I suggest that
the department overviews be presented during a separate yearly meeting --
or series of meetings --for ample detail & Q&A.

One definition of “Workshop” is “a meeting at which a group of people
engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject or
project.” The May 29 meeting did not fit the definition of Workshop. So I
do not consider it adequate for its intended purpose. This is why I suggest
adding at least one public study session before the budget goes to Council
for their approval.

Just reading the recent *Almana*c article on the City of Atherton's third
study session
<https://almanacnews.com/news/2018/06/06/today-third-study-session-on-atherton-budget>
on
its budget and in looking through their budget documen
<http://ca-atherton.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/5512/Item-1>t with
its check-off boxes signaling commission review (pages 21-22) I see the
kind of public engagement process that seems designed around truly wanting
to obtain Woodside residents’ input. MP can learn from approaches taken by
progressive cities around us such as Atherton.

Lynne Bramlett
Received on Fri Jun 08 2018 - 16:07:36 PDT

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