No vote was taken at the March 20 meeting, but the council made it clear that it would be premature to hire a consultant to manage a parcel tax renewal effort before residents were polled.
City Manager George Rodericks had asked the council to consider bringing in a professional group to manage a poll, then analyze results "for feasibility and provide the town with a strategic memorandum that discusses the vitality, risks, opportunities, effective message, and recommendations" on how to proceed with a ballot measure.
Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said she believes the town should "poll residents, but we don't need a consultant at this time."
Mr. Rodericks estimated the cost of conducting a poll of residents at $15,000 to $20,000.
The parcel tax will expire in June 2014, and the town is considering a renewal measure for the November 2013 ballot. With one exception, Atherton residents have in the past supported the tax, which must receive a two-thirds vote to pass.
Because the town collects almost no sales tax, it has relied on its annual tax of $750 on most parcels to supplement property tax revenue — by far the town's largest source of revenue — and other smaller revenue sources.
Parcel tax revenue goes to police services (60 percent) and capital projects (40 percent). Tax revenue for this fiscal year is expected to come in at about $1.86 million, providing about $1.1 million to the police department and about $744,000 to public works projects, according to the staff report.
With a budget of nearly $5.5 million this fiscal year, the police department accounts for just over half of the town's $10.9 million budget.
The council has talked about finding other revenue sources, and Mr. Rodericks suggested that council members evaluate additional means of raising funds as it proceeds with a parcel tax renewal effort. Council members Jim Dobbie and Bill Widmer pushed for exploring those options sooner rather than later.
"Do we need a parcel tax continuance?" Mr. Widmer asked. "I'm not prepared to say we need to continue it or not, but we need to discuss it and have facts."
Mr. Dobbie urged fellow council members to focus on other possible revenue sources such as a road impact fee and a real estate transfer tax. But in the end, the council agreed that studying other options would take time, and that in order to keep open the option of renewing the parcel tax, the town had to move ahead with the process and review other revenue sources later.