Towns face steep hike in costs for Sheriff's Office

Budget outlook sobering for Portola Valley

Police patrols in Portola Valley are likely to be much more expensive for the budget year that begins July 1, and the reasons have more to do with the benefits package for Sheriff's Office deputies than with costs associated with fighting crime, according to the town manager.

The cost of benefits for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which patrols Portola Valley and Woodside, will represent 71 percent of the overall personnel costs for the Sheriff's Office in budget year 2009-10, a significant increase from 2005-06, when benefits were 43 percent of costs, Town Manager Angela Howard said she was told by Sheriff Greg Munks.

"They've all given all their officers these incredible benefits and they don't know how to pay for them. That's the bottom line," Ms. Howard told the Town Council at its April 22 meeting, where she gave a preview of the upcoming budget.

In a three-year contract with the Sheriff's Office that is still being negotiated, Ms. Howard said that she expects police services to run $569,000 for the first year, a 27 percent increase from the 2008-09 cost of $449,000. A 3 percent rise would come in each of following two years.

On the revenue side, the town's home-building related income is down, expenses are up for the new Town Center -- the complex has 22 toilets now where there used to be four -- and the state is backing away from some obligations, Ms. Howard said.

"I think this is the first time in the 15 years that I've done a budget where I'm actually looking at a reduction in revenues," she said.

Scheduling conflicts precluded a goal-setting meeting, so council members had met individually with a consultant hired to sound them out on budget priorities. (Councilman Richard Merk declined to meet, Ms. Howard said, but sent her an e-mail message with suggested cuts.)

The consultant's report showed broad support on the council for environmental sustainability, including maintaining the employment of Brandi de Garmeaux, who coordinates green initiatives in town. A grant paid for her first year's compensation.

Disaster preparedness came next on the list of priorities, followed by possible training to improve civility on the town's volunteer committees where it has reportedly lapsed, on occasion.

Mr. Merk concurred on the importance of disaster preparedness, followed by town planning, building inspections and infrastructure. "Without planning, this town is nowhere. It's just another suburb," he said in an interview.

Observed Mayor Ann Wengert: "It's clear to me that we're going to be cutting, but it's too early to know what."

Income and outgo

Property tax revenues for the town are not expected to fall, but Ms. Howard said she expects income related to home construction, such as building permit fees, to be 25 percent lower than last year.

While there are six home-construction projects under review by the Architectural & Site Control Commission, Town Hall has not issued a building permit in 2009, she said. Were those six projects to receive permits, revenues would get "a significant boost," she said.

The baseball diamond at Ford Field, a little shabby with the passage of time, was due for a $255,000 rehab, but the state has reneged on a $200,000 grant. "Technically, they can't really do that, but they have," Ms. Howard said in an interview.

In addition to janitorial services needed for a quintupling of toilet capacity, the new Town Center needs $10,000 to monitor the advanced heating and cooling equipment and rooftop solar panels.

"It doesn't do much good to have all that equipment if it's not functioning properly," she said.

Another $10,000 would go to hire someone with the expertise to know the difference between weeds and young indigenous plants installed in the creek and around the complex, at least until the plants are established, she said.

Second patrol car

Portola Valley enjoys the daily services of two Sheriff's Office squad cars on patrol, with costs for the second car subsidized by the state.

While that subsidy has not changed, Ms. Howard said, the cost to the town for the second car in the new contract is expected to rise to $140,000 a year from $30,000, a 366 percent increase.

The town has few options but to go along with the change. Ms. Howard said she came away unsatisfied after exploring a contract with the Menlo Park Police Department.

"We're certainly not going to go down the road of getting our own (police department)," she added. "That's what has bankrupted other communities."


Like this comment
Posted by Utter McKinley
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Now the Los tranco Water District is starting to look a little selfish, aren't they, what with taking up all of those taxpayer dollars that should be distributed to meet our Town's school or community service needs.

Like this comment
Posted by Uhh, Ok!
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2009 at 5:13 pm

$10,000.00 for the weeds and "young indigenous plants." Don't even know where to start with this one. The comedy value alone of this little tid bit is just priceless.

Like this comment
Posted by moneywise
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on May 6, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Even with the increases in Sheriff's costs,what PV and Woodside pay is a bargain compared to what Atherton has to shell out for its own PD.

Like this comment
Posted by Angela Hey
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on May 6, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I am all for paying police properly and giving them benefits. It's a travesty that in this country police have to beg by telephoning for donations or pleading citizens to go to a police ball. Everything the police need - pensions, health care, equipment should be fully funded by appropriate governments.

Like this comment
Posted by Just think about it
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 6, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Pretty words, Angela. In an ideal world, I would even support your position.

But what about the real world? What about a police officer who has worked since the age of 20, who now makes $112,000 a year, and now decides to retire at the age of 50, guaranteed to get 90 percent of his salary annually (approx. $102,000) for the rest of his life, courtesy of taxpayers -- many who will never be able to retire because they have no decent pension options, or who will retire at 65 or 70 or 75 and live on a paltry fixed income?

In an ideal world, I would love to support the retirement of people who have been good public employees. But in the real world, I know that not only will I never be able to retire, but that my expectations of what my city government -- and county and state governments -- will be able to provide in terms of services to me and my fellow taxpaying citizens must continue to sink. Public services will steadily decrease because in order to continue funding ideal annual salary increases and ideal pension benefits for public employees, there will be steadily diminishing dollars to pay for the services that these good employees are supposed to be providing to the public.

Can you understand that there is something wrong with this picture? Can you figure out that something's got to change or, eventually, the public will be footing the bill for keeping people employed and happily retired while the money left over will barely be enough to keep the lights on in city hall? Do you know what the word "unsustainable" means?

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Posted by Charles
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 7, 2009 at 2:19 am

The answer is simple. We need to cut back on patrol cars! All they do here is give people tickets for California stops at Alpine and Portola and for doing 45 in the 35.

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Posted by WOW
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2009 at 7:25 am

Just another suburb? 10,000 for a weed checker? What's next - - Screw cap wine, unripened brie, polyester. Now this is a crisis.

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Posted by Too bad
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 7, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Where do you think all the money goes after tickets are written? For weeds and "young indigenous plants. Listen to yourselves. Many cities both small and big are going bankrupt, law enforcement and fire agencies across the county are cutting staff and you are worried about weeds.

From what I understand, Half Moon Bay and Millbrae would love it if the Sheriff’s Office moved in and patrolled their streets. Woodside and PV both get great service from the deputies who patrol their town. They are ordered to give tickets, and get a lot of BS when a local feels he or she is immune because they live on several acres and are friends with important people.

You get what you pay for, and how I interrupted this article was that the towns of Woodside and PV think they can get better law enforcement services. Well, happy hunting!

From a concerned citizen and life-long resident of Woodside.

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Posted by Godfather
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Town Manager Angela Howard, you have no business representing the citizens of PV & Woodside with the statements I have just read. $569,000 a year for law enforcement services from the Sheriff's Office, that is cheap at the price. For over 30 plus years the citizens of PV & Woodside have never received better service from the Sheriff's Office. You talk about the $10,000 fee to pay someone to check on weeds? You talk about 22 toilets where there used to 4? If you think you can obtain a better law enforcement agency for a cheaper price, knock yourself out.
Some residents complain about getting traffic citations for a California stop or 10 miles over the posted speed limit. PV & Woodside pay for a complete package for law enforcement. Some of those citizens think they are above and beyond getting these citation because of where they live!!! Ms. Howard and other residents that feel the way you do better get a life in the real world.

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Posted by Oh please
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 8, 2009 at 11:09 am

Angela Howard isn't questioning whether the service provided by the sheriff's office is adequate, so give up the red herring already, please.

The issue is: The town (and probably Woodside as well) is going to be asked to increase payment to the sheriff's office by 27 percent -- 27 percent!!! -- and the increase is mostly because of rising costs of employee costs.

You want to talk about living in the real world? In the real world, this kind of situation is not only unreasonable, it's not sustainable.

Like this comment
Posted by Nick
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 8, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Frankly, the Sheriff's Office has not charged PV actual cost for service for quite some time. Do we think when large storms and deadly vehicle accidents occur only two paid patrol units are on the scene, no numerous Sheriff cars respond at no cost to the Town. Good luck finding a cheaper price.

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Posted by I Agree
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 9, 2009 at 12:11 am

I agree with Nick. There is also no mention of the investigative services provided by the Sheriff, etc. A new police department would cost many times the paltry sum paid for Sheriff services.

Like this comment
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on May 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

It seems that people with an interest in not changing compensation and benefits for sheriff officers have taken to posting here, because the last few posts have nothing to do with the issue. The investigative services and the quality of services provided by the sheriff department are not being questioned. To throw those "arguments" into this discussion is to blow smoke.

The issue, as I see it, is employee costs, and the question: have they gotten so out of control that during economic hard times they've become too much of a burden on the public pocket book? I believe the answer is yes, definitely.

Look what's happening in other cities and agencies. Employee groups are returning to the table to renogotiate salaries and benefits. One example: Palo Alto firefighters. This is going to have to happen unless we want to see large numbers of public employees losing their jobs, and public services cut beyond the bone.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2009 at 7:46 am

In the mid to late 70's a certain San Mateo County Sheriff Officer Boyd would chase us in his cruiser all over the valley on our mini bikes...we knew all the trails and would not get caught until they got the helicopter out there. Back then, there were many open fields of oats and oak trees and few fences. I think less than 3000 people lived in Portola Valley back then. Funny looking at the almanac on line now from so far away physically and in time...seems like in the valley, a few folks wring their hands about this or that issue, but compared to the rest of the world, life in The Bubble is relatively easy. If this issue is consuming you, maybe a reexamination of your priorities is in order. If it just another issue to be dealt with, count your blessings. Happy trails, all.

Like this comment
Posted by Gordon
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Dec 16, 2012 at 9:05 am

After reading this article from 2009, now I know why we face a fiscal cliff inn 2013...

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