Almanac

News - July 3, 2013

As town revenues grow, Portola Valley passes budget

by Dave Boyce

Budget discussions at a recent Portola Valley Town Council meeting began on a high note. Instead of the expected 3 percent increase in property-tax revenues for the fiscal year that started July 1, the San Mateo County Assessor's Office expects a 6 percent bump, Town Manager Nick Pegueros told the council. (A dollar figure was not available at press time.)

With increased activity in home sales, real property transfer tax revenues of $138,800 in fiscal year 2012-13 exceeded expectations by 73 percent, Mr. Pegueros said. For 2013-14, he said he expects revenues of $100,000 in this category.

Meeting in the Historic Schoolhouse on June 26, the council unanimously approved a budget about 5 percent larger than the previous year's: $6.18 million in spending on expected revenues of $6.2 million, including about $800,000 from the utility-users tax. A surplus of $37,437 is expected, with $32,825 of that in the general fund.

New town employees — those hired this year or later — must now contribute 6.25 percent of their base pay toward their retirement accounts. (For employees hired before January, the town pays the employee's share of their retirement costs.) The town will contribute 10.28 percent and the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) will pay the rest. If CalPERS were to increase the town's share, the council should consider passing it on to employees, Mr. Pegueros said.

The town has also added seven years to the formula for calculating pension benefits for new employees. Staff hired before January 2013 can work for 10 years, for example, retire at 55 and claim a pension calculated by multiplying 10 years by 2 percent of the average salary over the final three years of work. For new employees, that formula won't be available until age 62.

The budget shows spending on contracted services, including planning, legal and geological analysis of home sites, as around $811,000, a 4 percent drop from the previous year. Spending on outside planning services is expected to drop by $40,000 after the hiring of Karen Kristiannson as deputy planner. Ms. Kristiannson has been a contract employee and associate of former town planner George Mader and current Town Planner Tom Vlasic.

The town will start outsourcing janitorial services with an allocation of $50,000 following the June 13 retirement of Senior Maintenance Coordinator Skip Struthers.

Other expenses

To keep the public playing fields green and playable, but with less water, the budget includes $35,000 for an efficiency study and possible changes to field management practices.

At the request of library staff, the budget allocates $35,000 from a dedicated reserve fund to correct the lighting in the library to remove shadows over the stacks that make reading difficult.

With town trucks more than 12 years old, the budget allocates $35,000 for a new Ford F-150 EcoBoost-equipped pickup truck. The truck's technology will raise fuel efficiency and lower the town's greenhouse gas footprint, officials said.

At a cost of about $8,000, the Town Center will get a permanent antenna for the town's AM radio transmitter. This initiative by the Emergency Preparedness Committee provides the town with a town-wide AM radio broadcast channel during major emergencies.

Using money from the Open Space Acquisition Fund, the budget allocates $90,700 to improve the "natural water features" and create a vernal pool on Spring Down Open Space, the six-acre meadow that borders Town Center.

Grants and gifts

Among the grants and gifts Portola Valley is expected to receive in the coming year are:

• A $224,000 grant for road resurfacing, from OneBayArea Grant, a transportation infrastructure program funded by regional sales and bridge tolls and state and federal fuel taxes.

• Reimbursement grants from the state totaling $232,214 for the now-ongoing project to rehabilitate the Ford Field baseball diamond.

• Two $100,000 donations toward Ford Field rehabilitation — one from the Sand Hill Foundation and another from Alpine-West Menlo Little League — and other private donations that add up to $59,000.

• Reimbursement from the federal government in repairing an estimated $300,000 in damage to the shoulder of upper Alpine Road during a storm in late December.

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