Rosier outlook for Atherton's budget

Town expects to add to reserve after spending from fund for two years

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Less than a year after making drastic budget cuts, including eliminating the equivalent of more than 12 full-time workers and replacing them with contractors, Atherton's City Council has been presented with a balanced budget that even adds about half a million dollars to the town's reserves.

Council members discussed the proposed fiscal year 2012-13 budget at their May 16 meeting and will consider it again on June 20. No one from the public spoke about the budget at last week's meeting, which followed budget study sessions in March and April.

Last year, Interim Finance Director Debra Auker reminded the council in her budget report, money problems were so severe that the council had to revise the budget mid-year, in September. This year things are looking better. Contracting out many of the town's services "has made a positive impact on our bottom line," she said.

This year's proposed general fund budget is $10.77 million -- 5.8 percent less than the budget for the current year, adopted in September, of $11.43 million. The proposed budget shows the town increasing its reserves by more than half a million dollars; it's the first time since the 2009-10 fiscal year that the town has not had to draw down its reserve fund.

Ms. Auker's report to the council noted that the town, which had already been using contractors for planning services, legal services, business license administration and human resources, added contractors for building department services, public works management, and for street, park and building maintenance.

The town also contracts with Redwood City for information technology and vehicle maintenance, Ms. Auker reported.

A year ago the town had the equivalent of 47.6 employees; today it has 35, she reported.

The budget forecasts a modest increase in revenues, 2.5 percent, mostly driven by increased property taxes (predicted to go up by 2.3 percent) and franchise taxes (predicted to go up by 7.9 percent). Property taxes provide 62 percent of Atherton's general fund revenues.

As in previous years, the police department is the most expensive part of town government, using 51 percent of general fund monies. Spending on police services remains essentially the same as last year, up only around $11,000 over last year at $5.46 million.

The department with the highest percentage increase in spending over last year is administration, up 7.5 percent. The budget recommends promoting Deputy City Clerk Theresa DellaSanta, who has been acting as city manager since late January, to city clerk with a raise of about $19,000 a year. It budgets $160,000 for a city manager.

Ms. Auker said she will tell the council more next month about a proposal to pay down a state loan to the town's retirement fund in order to reduce future spending on retirement costs. Council members expressed some concern about making the payment when the town still needs to build up its reserve funds.

Among the other issues council members brought up at the meeting are the costs of maintaining the town's tennis courts. The courts are expected to cost the town $22,000 in the coming fiscal year while bringing in only $8,400 in revenue by selling court keys and allowing classes to be taught on them.

In addition, the courts need to be resurfaced, which could cost as much as $350,000. Only 29 Atherton residents have tennis court keys.

Go to 2012-13 budget to read the report.


Like this comment
Posted by Save the Courts
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on May 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm

The courts were first put in by resident donations. During the 1970s and 1980s more than 200 people had keys at $100-200.00 per year. For many years the town put the surplus in the General Fund and used it for other things.

As the courts aged, less people bought keys. Now the courts badly need repair and less people will buy keys.

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