Viewpoint - September 15, 2010

Guest opinion: Let Atherton decide: add taxes or cut spending

by Malcolm Dudley

Atherton, like most communities, faces severe financial stress.

Past sources of state and federal revenue sharing have greatly diminished. Since Atherton has no commercial base providing sales tax revenues, the city is totally dependent upon property tax revenues and our limited special parcel tax.

At the time Proposition 13 passed, the town encountered a similar dilemma. It faced a huge loss of revenue, and had to make a decision: substantially reduce the level of town services, or find an alternative revenue source.

At that time police services accounted for approximately 50 percent of our budget and road maintenance accounted for about a third. It was clear that any significant reduction in services would have to come from those two areas. This was an extremely important decision for the council, which chose to conduct a survey to seek community input.

The survey asked homeowners their preference between reducing services or seeking additional revenues to maintain the current level of services. The survey provided homeowners with a breakdown of expenditures for each of the major sectors of service. Those preferring to balance the budget by cutting expenditures were asked to prioritize their preferences for the services they wanted reduced.

Residents who preferred to maintain the current level of services were asked to indicate their preference for the type of additional fee source (parcel tax, utility tax, or other). Over 80 percent of those responding preferred to maintain the current level of services and wanted to make up the deficit with a special parcel tax. Residents have renewed that tax every four years; however, increases in that tax have been slight, and have not kept up with increasing costs.

Today we face a similar budget deficit problem. I would encourage the City Council to survey the town residents for their input on dealing with this deficit. I would suggest that the survey provide a breakdown showing the reduced level of services that would result from balancing the budget through a cut in expenditures. No doubt it would show a significant reduction in police services and road maintenance.

The survey would show the increase in special parcel tax, or other revenue source, that would be needed to balance the budget while maintaining the current level of town services.

The results of this survey would provide the council with the clear community preference for solving Atherton's budget dilemma.

Malcolm Dudley is a former mayor and member of the Atherton City Council.


Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2010 at 5:17 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Malcom Dudley suggests that the only alternatives are either cutting services or increasing taxes. I disagree. The best alternative would be for the Town to become a more efficient provider of services so that it can provide the same, or even greater, level of services without raising taxes. As long as the Town leadership believes that they can simply pass on any increases in costs to the taxpayers there is no incentive for them to become better managers and better stewards of our tax dollars.

Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I disagree with Malcom Dudley. Cutting services or raising taxes is a false choice. It is a false choice because it is predicated upon the assumption that the Atherton Town Government is operating as efficiently and as effectively as it can.

I find this assumption implicit in Mr. Dudley's quest opinion as surprising. He is an investment adviser and a former member of the Atherton City Council. He should have the financial savy and the insight into the Town's operations to know that Atherton can and should do better for its constituents.

The failure of the Town of Atherton to come up with any solutions (such as the possible outsourcing of the police department or elements thereof) is a clear indication of the crisis of leadership which confronts the Town.

Hopefully with the new city council will come a new city manager. Hopefully the new city council will have the wisdom to hire a successful and energetic town resident who can find a way out of the current financial mess.

Posted by Atherton Taxpayer, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

J.Buckheit for City Manager
J.Johns for Finance Director
K.Sweidy for Building Official
K.McKeithen for Mayor for Life/chief litigator
P.Carpenter for Almanac Town Forum moderator

Who needs a TEA party?

Posted by Fedup, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 16, 2010 at 5:03 pm

And don't forget

Michael Stogner for non resident busybody

Posted by Striking terror, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 17, 2010 at 1:38 am

Not much more terror could be struck in the hearts of corrupt and overpaid Atherton employees than the prospect of Mr. Buckheit becoming City Manager, teamed up with Mayor Kathy McKeithen. Talk about a house cleaning! We can only hope.

Posted by save out town, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:23 am

Buckheit for City Manager

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