Some of this is true. The town does have financial challenges not unlike those of its neighbors. The council does need to refocus its efforts on solving the bigger issues and many people have expressed to me their concerns about what the council is doing and not doing.
I thought last week's article by Scott Barnum, "Time for residents to step up in Atherton," urging community members to become engaged in our fiscal issues, was very timely. We see and hear from relatively few and often the same residents at council meetings. I believe the entire council would welcome broader community interest in the affairs of our town. We have some very key issues that affect us all that need to be addressed.
Many of you with e-mail addresses recently received my note saying that even though the council has passed a 2010-11 budget its work has just begun. The finance committee recommended its passage in order for the town to continue paying its bills beyond July 1.
Now the hard work of addressing the town's cost structure must begin. Looking back several years we see the pattern of costs rising more steeply than general fund revenues. To balance next year's budget we allocated parcel tax money to cover a portion of the police department costs and building department reserves to cover the shortfall caused by lower construction-generated permit fees. The sky is not falling but clearly something has to change.
I encourage you to become engaged in the process. Besides attending finance committee and council meetings and expressing your view firsthand, feel free to personally contact each one of us with your concerns, questions and ideas. By becoming part of the process you can help shape the kind of community you want Atherton to be in the future.
The same is true with another large issue involving the rail corridor. The issue is not just about high speed rail but involves the future of Caltrain as well. While one-time capital project money, funded by public debt, seems available to build more rail projects, there isn't enough money to maintain the transportation systems we now have. Such borrowing by state and federal agencies continues to increase the amount of interest that will be added to the future cost of these systems. We need to be very selective where we invest our capital dollars for transportation systems.
We are very fortunate to have some dedicated and knowledgeable residents who have the experience and have done the research in rail systems. If you are not yet engaged in this issue, consider doing so now. The rail corridor runs through the central portion of our town. Construction impact, possible property takings, and long-term environmental consequences are concerns that are town-wide issues.
Yes, do please step up, Atherton residents, and become engaged in your town's future. Become part of the process for reaching the best decisions we can as a caring community.
Jerry Carlson is a member of the Atherton City Council.