Police patrols in Portola Valley are likely to be much more expensive for the budget year that begins July 1, and the reasons have more to do with the benefits package for Sheriff's Office deputies than with costs associated with fighting crime, according to the town manager.
The cost of benefits for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which patrols Portola Valley and Woodside, will represent 71 percent of the overall personnel costs for the Sheriff's Office in budget year 2009-10, a significant increase from 2005-06, when benefits were 43 percent of costs, Town Manager Angela Howard said she was told by Sheriff Greg Munks.
"They've all given all their officers these incredible benefits and they don't know how to pay for them. That's the bottom line," Ms. Howard told the Town Council at its April 22 meeting, where she gave a preview of the upcoming budget.
In a three-year contract with the Sheriff's Office that is still being negotiated, Ms. Howard said that she expects police services to run $569,000 for the first year, a 27 percent increase from the 2008-09 cost of $449,000. A 3 percent rise would come in each of following two years.
On the revenue side, the town's home-building related income is down, expenses are up for the new Town Center -- the complex has 22 toilets now where there used to be four -- and the state is backing away from some obligations, Ms. Howard said.
"I think this is the first time in the 15 years that I've done a budget where I'm actually looking at a reduction in revenues," she said.
Scheduling conflicts precluded a goal-setting meeting, so council members had met individually with a consultant hired to sound them out on budget priorities. (Councilman Richard Merk declined to meet, Ms. Howard said, but sent her an e-mail message with suggested cuts.)
The consultant's report showed broad support on the council for environmental sustainability, including maintaining the employment of Brandi de Garmeaux, who coordinates green initiatives in town. A grant paid for her first year's compensation.
Disaster preparedness came next on the list of priorities, followed by possible training to improve civility on the town's volunteer committees where it has reportedly lapsed, on occasion.
Mr. Merk concurred on the importance of disaster preparedness, followed by town planning, building inspections and infrastructure. "Without planning, this town is nowhere. It's just another suburb," he said in an interview.
Observed Mayor Ann Wengert: "It's clear to me that we're going to be cutting, but it's too early to know what."
Income and outgo
Property tax revenues for the town are not expected to fall, but Ms. Howard said she expects income related to home construction, such as building permit fees, to be 25 percent lower than last year.
While there are six home-construction projects under review by the Architectural & Site Control Commission, Town Hall has not issued a building permit in 2009, she said. Were those six projects to receive permits, revenues would get "a significant boost," she said.
The baseball diamond at Ford Field, a little shabby with the passage of time, was due for a $255,000 rehab, but the state has reneged on a $200,000 grant. "Technically, they can't really do that, but they have," Ms. Howard said in an interview.
In addition to janitorial services needed for a quintupling of toilet capacity, the new Town Center needs $10,000 to monitor the advanced heating and cooling equipment and rooftop solar panels.
"It doesn't do much good to have all that equipment if it's not functioning properly," she said.
Another $10,000 would go to hire someone with the expertise to know the difference between weeds and young indigenous plants installed in the creek and around the complex, at least until the plants are established, she said.
Second patrol car
Portola Valley enjoys the daily services of two Sheriff's Office squad cars on patrol, with costs for the second car subsidized by the state.
While that subsidy has not changed, Ms. Howard said, the cost to the town for the second car in the new contract is expected to rise to $140,000 a year from $30,000, a 366 percent increase.
The town has few options but to go along with the change. Ms. Howard said she came away unsatisfied after exploring a contract with the Menlo Park Police Department.
"We're certainly not going to go down the road of getting our own (police department)," she added. "That's what has bankrupted other communities."