Almanac

News - February 3, 2010

Portola Valley council may hike fees for town facilities

by Dave Boyce

The town of Portola Valley is considering another increase to fees charged for the use of town facilities, this time for the 15-month old spacious community hall and two smaller activity rooms at Town Center.

The Town Council seemed agreeable to considering a new fee structure at a public hearing tentatively set for Wednesday, Feb. 10. The council recently raised fees for organized sports that that use the town's soccer and baseball fields in a bid to have players split field maintenance fees with the town.

Portola Valley is a bit straitened midway through its first budget year in 15 years in which revenues have dropped. Home-construction and state-derived revenues are down and expenses are up, including a 33 percent increase over three years for law enforcement services.

Room rental fees would jump sharply. A resident wanting to hold a memorial service today would pay $100 for the community hall, and $75 for one of the activity rooms. After surveying rates for similar facilities elsewhere, town staff would boost the fee for memorials to $1,000, an increase of 567 percent, and the activity room fee to $200, up 167 percent.

The town should not be providing memorial services at a price that undermines similar facilities in town, Assistant Town Manager Janet McDougall told the council on Jan. 13. Nearby Valley Presbyterian Church, for example, charges $1,490 for a memorial service, she said.

"Are we somehow inadvertently driving much needed money away from a local church?" Ms. McDougall asked rhetorically in an interview with The Almanac. "Are we inadvertently turning the community hall into a memorial chapel?"

It's a balancing act. "It's certainly not the town's intent to create hardship for people during a difficult loss" of a loved one, Ms. McDougall noted.

Renters have caused damage, although minor so far, she said. There are gouges in the hall's eucalyptus floor, and the wrong kinds of tape have damaged painted walls in the activity rooms. Renters would pay separately for event insurance, which can boost costs significantly if alcohol is served.

The new rules will likely limit weekend use to one event per weekend because staff are not around for cleanup and damage assessment between events. Go to tinyurl.com/PV-fees for more information.

Unlike the case for field-use fees, maintenance costs are not the issue. Revenues from the 22 weddings, parties and memorials held since the hall opened have covered upkeep costs, Ms. McDougall said. Fees are higher for non-residents.

There's no charge for community and town-sponsored events, of which there have been 143.

For comparison, the town of Atherton charges $3,000 to rent its Holbrook-Palmer Park meeting room to gatherings of 100 people or fewer, Ms. McDougall said. A similar gathering could rent Independence Hall in Woodside for $150.

In Menlo Park, the Burgess Recreation Center rents for $156 per hour on a weekend, according to city's Web site.

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