Wodside: Shanahan pushes for spending cuts
Kevin Bryant, Woodside's town manager since January, can add a notch to his belt. In submitting his first budget for review by the Town Council on June 12, Mr. Bryant endured more than two hours of grilling by the council while presenting a balanced budget that includes a $90,000 surplus.
The analysis by five of the seven council members — Anne Kasten and Dave Burow were absent — included a spirited discussion of priorities and a search for economies, in particular and relentlessly by Councilman Tom Shanahan.
The proposed budget shows general fund revenues of $5,650,878 for the fiscal year that begins July 1, about $200,000 less than the previous year. Projected expenses are $5,560,862, an increase of about $1,000.
Staff will return to the council with a final budget on Tuesday, June 26, for a public hearing and council vote.
Among the highlights of the evening:
• Library remodel: The council agreed that a seismic analysis should be done for this one-story wood-frame building and should take priority over plans for a $2 million remodel. The remodeling plans would benefit from a cost/benefit analysis, added Councilman Peter Mason and Mayor Dave Tanner.
• Sheriff's contract: A council majority approved a three-year $1.45 million law enforcement contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. Unlike the annual jumps of 10 percent in previous contracts, this one rises by 4 percent for the first year and 3 percent after that.
• Motorcycle patrols: Council members concerned about traffic chaos on weekends asked Lt. Tim Reid, the deputy sheriff overseeing Peninsula patrols, to look into the possibility of a motorcycle patrol every weekend instead of only periodically.
• Environment fest: The budget allocates $6,000 for one day in 2013 to promote green living, a day the town did not celebrate in 2011. It's a good way to bring people together, Councilwoman Deborah Gordon said. It promotes conservation practices and sustainability, Councilman Ron Romines said. "They need to do it for less," Mr. Mason said.
Doing things for less was the evening's message from Mr. Shanahan, who questioned the annual increases in the law enforcement contract, two deputies on night patrol, the need for a bricks-and-mortar public library in a digital era, a requirement to add fire-safe vents in the eaves of homes having significant exterior work done, and allocations to outside agencies, including those advancing the cause of affordable housing.
San Mateo-based nonprofit HIP Housing, supported by Menlo Park, Atherton, Hillsborough and 12 other city or town councils in the county, asked the Woodside council for $5,000. Older Woodside residents have used it to continue living in their own houses after HIP found reliable live-in tenants, Ms. Gordon said.
"Each of the cities needs to participate," she said in an interview, "and take some responsibility for the county issues as a whole, to work together, not to be isolated."
"My view," Mr. Shanahan said at the meeting, "is that it's not for this council to make charitable contributions in the name of the city. Why are we sending this money out of this town? Where do we stop giving money away? Some of our citizens don't believe in this."
"I don't feel that we're doing anything to reduce the cost of government," Mr. Shanahan said at one point. Public agency budgets tend to increase and should be studied for ways to cut costs, he said.
"It's true that all governments, including ours, have to examine the services we provide," Town Manager Bryant said in response. "I think I can count on one hand the number of things we do of an optional nature."
For example, he noted, the town reimburses homeowners for 50 percent of the cost (up to $1,000) of clearing brush and other vegetation that surround a home and might help a wildfire climb up into trees or on to the roof. The council allocates $25,000 annually for this (and 21 households have used it, he told the Almanac).
"We do need to be constantly looking at ways to do what we do more efficiently," Mr. Bryant added.
"I'm just terribly frustrated to think I'm in the business of (rubber stamping the budget and going home)," Mr. Shanahan said.
In a 2011 Almanac interview, he said he believes in zero-based budgeting — questioning a program's existence, not just whether to increase or decrease its share of revenues.
Mr. Shanahan is a general partner and head of West Coast investment banking at Needham Asset Management, LLC, on Sand Hill Road, and a former chief financial officer in several high-tech companies.