Case Study

 

CITY OF MENLO PARK: YOUR CITY/YOUR DECISION

 

The Problem

After years of trimming the City’s budget, in the spring of 2005, the City of Menlo Park forecast a $2.9 million gap between revenues and expenditures in the General Fund for fiscal year 2006-2007. Difficult choices regarding service reductions, revenue increases, or alternate ways of providing services, lay ahead. The City required a sustainable solution, but wanted to garner community input and support.

What We Did

The City of Menlo Park enlisted Community Focus to solicit and gather community input and to educate residents about the important budget issues at stake. The resulting process was called Your City/Your Decision.

There were two phases to this community engagement process. Phase I gathered information about the community’s priorities through a survey. Each household and business received the survey with information about City services, their current net costs, the potential impact of reduced net costs, and revenue options. Respondents were asked to give input on their priorities by using net cost reductions and/or revenue increases (including fee increases and taxes) to balance the budget. From this data, the City staff developed a list of possible budget-balancing strategies (e.g., various levels of net cost reductions, alternative ways to provide a service, revenue increases, etc.) to address the community’s priorities. In Phase II the City presented these strategies at community workshops. Residents were arranged in small groups simulating what a City Council might experience; deliberating over the possible strategies, voting for or against each strategy and finishing with a balanced budget solution.

Results/Outcomes:

  • Successful community outreach resulted in the City receiving over 1,600 responses to the Phase I survey

  • An estimated 225 residents participated in Phase II community workshops

  • 93% of the workshop groups chose to balance the budget using a combination of net cost reductions and taxes; 7% chose to balance the budget through net cost reductions only

  • On average, workshop participants “raised” $1,573,000 through net cost reductions, and $1,314,000 through increased taxes to erase the $2.9 million dollar deficit

  • The process developed community support and understanding for the difficult decisions which may be necessary