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Atherton police budget gets boost due to officer disability

Mounting overtime costs resulting from the number of officers out on disability, coupled with the expense of recruiting new officers, have led to a mid-year budgetary boost for the Atherton Police Department. And the ongoing building boom in town is making more spending in the building division necessary as well, although revenue generated by the robust level of activity more than covers those costs.

The City Council on Feb. 19 authorized giving the police department an additional $70,298 to cover costs of paying four officers full salaries while they're on disability leave and for the overtime pay needed to cover those positions.

Although all four council members present that night supported the change in the building services budget, Councilman Bill Widmer objected to the request for more police spending. He argued that the council had already authorized an amount equal to $80,000 for hiring two additional officers -- positions yet to be filled -- and that money could be applied to cost overruns.

City Manager George Rodericks, however, "advised that this funding is not to be used until such time as the positions are filled on a permanent basis," according to a staff report.

The council majority agreed, voting 3-1, with Jim Dobbie absent and Mr. Widmer dissenting, and approved the additional funding.

Police Chief Ed Flint told the Almanac later that although the two additional positions in his department have been approved and funded so that recruitment can occur, he has not been authorized to hire new officers until existing positions open up.

He added that one position held now by an officer on disability is likely to be vacant soon. Officers on disability receive full pay, and have up to one year before coming back to work or leaving the force, he said.

Building permit surge

The police services budgetary adjustment is small compared with that made for the town's building services, for which an additional $166,389 in spending was authorized in the same council vote. But the additional spending for building services is amply covered by higher-than-projected revenue from building permits, making the approval merely a pro forma action -- moving the extra funds from the "revenue" column to the "expenditure" column.

The extra building division spending is a result of provisions in the town's agreement with its independent contractor that provides the building services. The contractor receives 58 percent of the first $1 million in revenue, and 55 percent for revenue over that amount. The current fiscal budget projected building revenues to be $1.23 million; it's now projected to be $1.53 million, requiring the town to pay more than expected to the contractor.

The revenue is generated by fees charged for a range of permits and code-required inspections of construction projects.

The staff report on the mid-year budget also provided welcome news about property tax revenue: Initially projected to be about $7.6 million in the current fiscal year, total property tax revenue is now estimated to come in at about $8.5 million by the end of June.

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