Many of these employees have worked diligently and loyally for many years. It is wrong to disrespect all that they have done for us. They care deeply about the town and all of the people they serve. The town is well served when its employees feel they are appreciated.
Good morale is very important, both for our employees and residents. It is not a good sign when so many of our senior staff people have recently left the town, including the police chief, city manager, assistant city manager, public works director, two building officials, and so on. I hear from many other Atherton residents who share this concern.
The firings seem to be motivated by the belief that Atherton faces severe financial difficulties. I have thoroughly researched our town finances covering the past several years. In spite of declining real estate values nationally, Atherton's secured property tax revenues have continued to increase each year since 2004-05, increasing $557,677 between 2007-08 and 2010-11, a 3.18 percent annual rate. So revenue is not a problem.
Looking at operating costs, Atherton's expenditures have increased at a very modest 1.28 percent ($543,465) between 2007-08 and 2010-11. Clearly these figures do not indicate any serious budget issues, either from the standpoint of revenues or expenditures.
Going even further back in the finances, and looking at each town department individually, you find that the largest percentage increase is in the city attorney's department, where expenditures increased at an average annual rate of 7.13 percent between 1999-00 and 2010-11, reflecting the level of town litigation. Increases in other departments were: administration, 4.64 percent; finance, 4.52 percent; police, 3.3 percent; public works, 4.27 percent; and building, 6.5 percent.
The building department should be funded through user fees, which should be set at a level that will fully fund this department's activities. Unfortunately current fees have not covered all of the department's expenditures. During the past three years the budgeted revenues totaled $521,077 less than department expenditures. This number will be reduced as 2010-11 building department revenues will likely be approximately $1,400,000 vs. a budgeted figure of $1,005,637.
The town does receive substantial revenues from Holbrook-Palmer Park, an average of $242,319 during the period 2002-03 through 2010-11. The town collects $4,500 (for groups of 101 to 200) per event, when the rental includes both the Main House and the Pavilion. There is a supervisory cost of $20 per hour during the entire event, but the revenues are significantly greater.
Primarily because of the uncertainty concerning the location of a new library, with the possibility that it could be placed in the location of the Main House in Holbrook Palmer Park, the town has discontinued taking any new rental reservations. Therefore, the town will receive less rental income and the community will lose access to these facilities.
In addition to the financial considerations involved, there is the issue of fulfilling the wishes of Rita Corbett Evans, a very generous donor whose bequest was to fund an art center at the park. The town accepted her gift, which stipulated that an art center remain at the park. The original center has been rented out as a playschool. Subsequently the town provided an art center in the basement of the Main House. The town accepted her gift, and has a responsibility to honor her wishes. I would hope that the town keep the new library at its present location, retaining the park's Main House for community activities, the art center and as a source of future rental income.
Considering the overall financial health of Atherton, I hope the town will not fire all of the town's building department and public works department personnel. There are better ways to balance budgets. And I hope the town will not demolish the wonderful old Main House in Holbrook-Palmer Park.
Malcolm Dudley is a former Mayor of Atherton.