Almanac

News - June 9, 2010

Woodside town manager 'cautiously optimistic' about weathering recession

by Dave Boyce

As predicted last year at this time by Woodside's town manager, the local economy has bumped along and is pretty much where it was a year ago, and as the new budget year approaches, the town's fiscal house remains in order.

The projected reserve on a general fund budget of $5.6 million is $1.9 million, Town Manager Susan George said in a report to the Town Council. The council met June 3 to review the 2010-11 budget.

"I continue to be cautiously optimistic that the town will weather the current economic times relatively unscathed and with adequate reserves intact," she said in the report. "We are able to continue all current programs and levels of service with no adjustment for the next fiscal year and beyond. We can also take on a few discrete new projects with confidence."

Her report recommends setting aside $40,000 to redo the town's Web site by a designer experienced with local government priorities, and $80,000 to repaint Independence Hall and upgrade the 20-year-old heating and ventilation systems at the town center complex. Town Hall still has offices that are not air conditioned, Ms. George told the council.

A new roof is coming to Town Hall, but spending the $35,000 set aside for it should be delayed until after a finding on the useful life of the current roof, the report said. Plans for roof-mounted solar panels, a $100,000 line item, should be put on hold pending a report later this year on the availability of funding assistance.

The town should drop plans for an on-site wastewater recovery system at the town center complex, the report said. One purpose of that system — to set an example in a town with troublesome geography for septic tanks — can be addressed less expensively through public education, and helped by a willingness of residents who own such systems to share information.

The council pushed back. In the interest of saving money, the town should not restrict its Web site redesign inquiries to companies specializing in government sites, council members Peter Mason and Deborah Gordon said.

The council is considering raising fees for permits and other charges to residents who build or remodel homes. The increases would be in keeping with a policy that requires fees to more or less pay for the work done by staff.

The staff members doing that work report to two departments, each with its own budget: public works, and planning and building. The overall budget needs a breakdown of these shared responsibilities to better assess the true costs of staff time, council members said.

Expenses up

The animal control budget is way up, but most of the $36,000 increase is a reckoning for the past three years. Over that time, the Peninsula Humane Society has received a "much higher than estimated" volume of calls from Woodside for matters such as lost dogs and feral cats, Ms. George told the council.

The current estimate of $87,000 is a 71 percent increase over the preliminary budget number of $51,000 from earlier this year.

"I haven't seen (a Humane Society) truck in town for an entire year," Councilman Dave Tanner remarked skeptically.

"Believe me," Ms. George said, "this is still a lot cheaper than having your own animal control program."

The budget shows a $900,000 expense for redesigning the interior of the library, a community-participation project that is in its early stages. The money will be drawn from the library's $2.1 million reserve, all of which must be used for library purposes, Ms. George said.

Good news about revenues

In a bit of surprising news, the town experienced an 8.7 percent increase in property tax revenues over the past 12 months, Ms. George said. The projected rate for 2010-11 is almost flat and changes from day to day, but the trend has been upward recently, she added.

Sales tax revenue has also trended upward. The first quarter was "pretty strong, pretty encouraging," Ms. George said.

Retirement costs will rise between 1 and 2 percent as a result of stock market losses by CalPERS, the public employee retirement fund. The town will owe $34,000 and pay it over five years.

Salary costs will not rise: no raises and no stepped increases for the next 12 months, Ms. George said.

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