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