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June 16, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Woodside adds programs, avoids red ink in $5.2 million budget Woodside adds programs, avoids red ink in $5.2 million budget (June 16, 2004)

By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer

In an era of tightened belts, looming layoffs and slashed services, the town of Woodside remains a fiscal oasis.

The town's $5.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year is balanced with a small surplus, and includes $179,000 in new programs added to the two-year budget originally approved by the council last June.

The fiscal year beginning July 1 is the second year of Woodside's two-year budget cycle.

"We're extremely fortunate to have such an adept money manager," said Councilwoman Carroll Ann Hodges.

Based on conservative revenue assumptions, the 2004-05 fiscal budget doesn't tap into any of Woodside's reserves, according to Town Manager Susan George.

"We will still end the year about $22,000 in the black and with reserves of a little more than $1.5 million in the bank. We're in good shape and I don't see anything on the horizon to change that," Ms. George said.

Two major additions to the 2004-05 budget are $30,000 to clear brush and debris from roadsides to reduce fire danger and a $25,000 review of the town's fee schedule.

Ms. George explained to the Town Council at the June 8 meeting that the existing fee schedule has not been updated in 10 years, and the town may be charging too much money in some cases, and not enough in others. Fees include charges for planning and engineering reviews and permit processing. The town is allowed to recover its costs, but not to use fees to raise revenue.

Building plans could get a speedier trip through Woodside's engineering services, following a $25,000 audit of its management and organization included in the budget. The audit is intended to identify improvements, streamline requirements for submittals, and check for any unclear language in the municipal code that needs to be cleaned up, she said. She gets periodic comments about how long it takes for projects to go through the engineering process, and comments from the engineering staff saying it's not always clear what needs to be looked at, Ms. George said.

Other additions to the budget include a $5,000 pilot project for private security patrols of town-controlled lands, such as Kite Hill, and $3,000 for the Woodside Bicycle Committee to host a family bike-riding event, add cycling-related content to the town's Web site, and purchase an official banner to hoist at community events.

Ms. George said the private security patrols are intended to address problems that include off-roading and fire hazards from illicit gatherings of people smoking.

The budget also incorporates a two-year, $2.6 million road program, with $1.2 million earmarked in 2004-05 for road rehabilitation, drainage and other maintenance programs. Among the biggest projects are work on Kings Mountain Road, and repair of a major landslide on Summit Springs Road.

Not in the budget is the town's annual $5,000 contribution to CERPP, the emergency response program run by residents of the Woodside Fire Protection District. Since the group has not drafted a budget for the coming fiscal year, and has over $33,000 in its treasury, Ms. George recommended the council wait for specific budget requests from the organization rather than make automatic contributions each year.

"I think CERPP is due for an infusion of some new leadership," Ms. George said when asked by council members how the organization was doing.

Funding for consulting firm Page & Turnbull to draft a historic preservation element for the town's general plan will probably roll over into the following year's budget, because the process hasn't started yet and will take more than a year to complete.

There are no major surprises on the revenue side of the budget picture, according to Ms. George. Dwindling sales-tax revenue seems to have hit bottom, and she is predicting it will hold steady, but not increase significantly.

The deal struck between local governments and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to shore up the faltering state budget means that Woodside will lose about $78,000 in revenues in fiscal year 2004-05 and again in 2005-06, she said.

Under the deal, which still must be approved by the state Legislature, Woodside is owed about $98,000 in unpaid vehicle license fees from the current fiscal year that is supposed to be repaid in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006. However, Ms. George said she did not factor that repayment into her five-year outlook for the town because Woodside's financial management policy "dictates that revenues not be budgeted unless there is reasonable certainty that they will be received."

A bit of a cynic when it comes to the state's fiscal shenanigans, Ms. George told council in the introduction to the budget: "Perhaps the Governor is shrewd enough and popular enough to know how to craft a workable blend of budget deals that will get the state through the next two years. Perhaps there really is a tooth fairy."

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