Atherton will trim one police officer position, but the town is poised to pull off a balanced budget with a particularly large sum going toward capital improvements, such as road and drainage projects.
The $16.9 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 includes $5.1 million in funding for capital improvement projects, and forecasts being in the black by a very slim margin — about $4,500.
For the first time, the entire sum of parcel tax revenues, projected at almost $1.9 million, is budgeted for capital projects, said interim finance director Bill Yeomans.
"The City Council's deciding it wants to improve its infrastructure, and it's spending the money to do so," he said.
The budget was passed on a 4-0 vote at the June 18 council meeting.
Police Chief Bob Brennan managed to partially defeat a proposal to eliminate two of the department's 22 sworn officer positions. The council opted to retain the school resources officer who works at Menlo-Atherton High School, even though the school district is no longer contributing to the cost, as it has in the past.
However, one officer position — the officer was assigned to the county's narcotics unit — will be eliminated through attrition. Losing the specialty position won't reduce the number of patrol officers on the streets, said Mr. Yeomans.
Specialty positions, such as the narcotics detail or the San Mateo County gang task force, offer Atherton officers new skills and new challenges, Chief Brennan told the council at a special budget meeting on June 11. He said he believes that's the reason that the Atherton police department has seen very little attrition, while neighboring cities such as Menlo Park have had huge turnover.
"It's a philosophy on my part that you create opportunities for the people who are here," he said. "If you want to drive people away, losing these specialty positions is the way to do it."
The police department's total budget for 2008-09 is $5.15 million, up about 5 percent from last year.
The proposed budget adheres to the simple philosophy that "general fund expenditures cannot exceed general fund revenues," said Councilman Jerry Carlson.
The budget assumes that building permit fees will rise in the next six months, and that all revenue from the town's parcel tax will go toward capital improvement projects.
In past years, about $650,000 of parcel tax money has gone into the town's general fund, but in the current budget year Atherton was able to afford shifting that money back into the capital improvement fund, said Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen.