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Atherton City Council OKs maximum parcel tax

Atherton property owners will pay the maximum rate -- $750 annually for most of them -- in parcel taxes for the next fiscal year, the City Council decided at its June 18 meeting.

The action was signaled earlier this month during a council study session, with three council members agreeing that it would be premature to lower the rate now, and Councilman Bill Widmer arguing for a 25 percent reduction. But even Mr. Widmer supported the vote last week, noting that council members seemed willing to reconsider reducing the rate in the future after several key studies are completed.

The parcel tax, which raises about $1.86 million annually for public works projects and police services, was set to expire next month, but was renewed by voters in 2013 for four years. The council must approve charging the tax rate each year, and can set it lower than the voter-approved maximum. The tax has always been charged at the maximum rate.

At the study session, Councilman Widmer said that even with conservative projections on the town's surplus revenues -- which this year are estimated at about $6 million and projected to grow as high as $11 million in five years -- the town should be able to lower the parcel-tax rate this coming year without promising reductions in the future.

Councilman Rick DeGolia was sympathetic to lowering the rate, but ultimately sided with Mayor Cary Wiest and Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, who argued that the town hasn't yet completed its review of alternative revenue sources, and that studies are still in progress that may identify needs for high-cost projects that taxpayers would be willing to support.

At last week's meeting, Mr. DeGolia noted that four master plans are being developed, including for capital projects and for the park, and that "staff is doing an excellent job moving them along." Once they are completed, he said, "I want (the town) to go to residents to hear what their priorities are."

Councilwoman Lewis noted that the town must focus on deferred maintenance for infrastructure and "significant capital projects" in the future, and keeping the tax rate at its current level would allow it to accelerate some of the work. Referring to the town's study of alternative revenue sources, she said, "Hopefully we won't have to pass another parcel tax in four years."

Pay raise

Also at the June 18 meeting, the council approved a 1.5 percent salary increase for City Manager George Rodericks and the town's unrepresented employees, and an adjustment in their health insurance plans to make them consistent with those of police officers, who are represented by a union.

The council also approved changes in Mr. Rodericks' contract that provide a $250 monthly auto allowance and a $3,000 allowance for the new contract year for technology costs.

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