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Guest opinion for Portola Valley tax

This guest opinion is by Portola Valley Councilman Steve Toben.

On a quiet autumn evening in Portola Valley, it's easy to think that our town is immune from the financial turbulence that is roiling cities up and down the state.

Beneath the surface, however, Portola Valley faces many of the same threats confronting local government throughout California. Some signs of trouble:

-- The state of California has expropriated $220,000 in property tax and gas tax revenue from Portola Valley to help balance the state budget.

-- State bond money for local capital projects has disappeared.

-- Building permit revenues are down 40 per cent.

-- Reserves have dwindled to 40 percent of the operating budget, the lowest level in decades. By comparison, Woodside's reserves equal 100 percent of its operating budget.

The cost of law enforcement services, which are contracted from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, will skyrocket 30 percent over the next three years.

All of this underscores the critical importance of the town's utility users tax (UUT), first passed in 1985. The UUT is a tax on telephone, gas, electricity and water bills, and it has two parts. The first consists of a 4.5 percent charge to fund basic services — law enforcement, road repairs, trail upkeep, and maintenance of fields and the facilities at Town Center.

The second part consists of a 2 percent charge to fund the acquisition of open space. This fund has enabled the purchase of six acres of valuable property adjacent to Town Center, among other acquisitions.

Every four years the voters are asked to renew their support for the UUT. This year, three measures appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. Measure P would keep the tax rate for basic services at 4.5 percent, rather than jumping up to 5.5 percent

Measure Q would approve the UUT for core services — police, roads, facilities, and basic upkeep.

Measure R would approve the UUT for the continued purchase and preservation of open space. Measure R cannot be implemented unless Measure Q also passes.

We urge Portola Valley residents to vote yes on all three measures. Let's be clear: if the UUT is defeated on Nov. 3, immediate cuts to the town budget will be necessary. Residents could see reductions in sheriff's patrols, deferred maintenance of streets, declines in the quality of playing fields, increases in the costs of classes, slower processing of permits, and lost opportunities for open space acquisition.

For decades Portola Valley has maintained strict discipline in managing expenditures. The town has the lowest costs per capita of any city in San Mateo County. To balance the budget this year, the Town Council has frozen staff salaries, canceled capital projects, eliminated hires, and reduced program expenditures across the board. The town has never taken on debt and has never considered the enactment of a parcel tax, which would compete with the school district's parcel tax.

We face uncertain times, but renewal of the UUT will help ensure a stable future for Portola Valley. On Nov. 3 voter turnout could be key. Please vote yes on Measures P, Q and R.

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