Atherton dips into reserves with $17 million town budget


Atherton is trimming staff, cutting expenses, and dipping into its reserve fund to make ends meet in the fiscal year beginning July 1. The $17 million operating and capital improvement budget for 2009-10 was approved by the City Council at its June 17 meeting.

The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Charles Marsala opposed.

Mr. Marsala said he was concerned that the town is overcharging on road impact fees, and since the budget doesn't address that situation, he is voting against it. City Attorney Wynne Furth said a report on road impact fees should come to the council next month, and if there is an issue with the fees, it can be addressed then.

After spending hours at several special budget meetings scrutinizing everything from bottled water to business trips, the council pruned operating expenses by nearly $547,000. Town staff is shrinking a bit, with the police department leaving two positions unfilled.

"I want to thank staff for all the hard work they've done in whittling down their budgets," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis.

The town's general fund balance will drop by $500,000 in order to help fund a new expense in the budget -- setting aside money to pay for retiree health benefits -- bringing the town's reserves to $5.7 million.

If it wasn't for the town's problematic business license tax, Atherton's revenues would put the town in the black in the coming fiscal year, according to Louise Ho, Atherton's finance director. However, the need to issue refunds to building contractors and subcontractors who were overcharged in the past two years pushes Atherton's revenue picture into the red. Atherton is setting aside $817,000 in its budget for business tax refunds.

Since learning of the problem, the town has changed its method for figuring the business license tax.

Property tax revenues are projected to rise 3 percent over last year, while building permit revenue is expected to decline, according to Ms. Ho.

Capital improvement projects funded by the budget include road maintenance and repairs, several drainage improvement projects, and the town's share of a jointly funded new traffic signal at Encinal Avenue and Middlefield Road.

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Like this comment
Posted by oh really
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:05 pm

and just a month or two ago...the Atherton Chief took his Lieuteneant and all the of the sergeants and his communications manager to Carmel Valley for one week of all expenses paid trip for a work shop (meals/lodging/ name it. This could have been done at Holbrrok Palmer park for free. No overtime would have to be paid and the tax payers would not be getting ripped off once again!

Explain this counsel members...

Like this comment
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Atherton is deep in budget red ink, in the midst of raising our parcel taxes, and the police department goes to a lavish retreat in Carmel? Who's minding the store around here?

Leading topic at the retreat: how to game the system to get a 90% pension and continue working in a different police agency concurrently to make over $250K per year. Guest speaker: former Police Chief Bob Brennan. California going bankrupt? Screw 'em.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 26, 2009 at 10:00 am

Is any body wondering if this has anything to do with why the police are hanging the public works sup out to dry???--Or why the previous finance director was made to flame out???--Or any number of other recent town scandels?? It certainly doesnt appear to have occured to tne press or even the DAs office so far--how much more of this will it take???

Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 27, 2009 at 8:03 am

This is typical dirty little atherton police and town officals. "Do as we say...not as we do"

The residents should demand an accounting for this week long all expenses paid party in Carmel Valley! Not to mention the overtime paid to those left behind to cover for those who were enjoying a week of luxury in Carmel Valley. What is going on? Why is no one held accountable for anything?

A massive law suit involving the police department (AGAIN)

ANOTHER police officer being investigated for stealing (AGAIN)

ANOTHER police chief spending money on frivolous and non essential things (AGAIN)

This week long escapade to Carmel Valley could have been done at Town facilities for FREE. is an idea...go next door to the City of Menlo Park for FREE...this is ridicuous.

Like this comment
Posted by sick and tired
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 27, 2009 at 9:07 am

What a waste of tax payer dollars. How can any one justify dipping into reserves when money is being spent so irresponsibly? Who is in charge of the outgoing money? Who is the person who is so fiscally irresponsible to allow this Carmel Valley trip to ever happen in the first place?

Those who are found to be responsible for this should lose their jobs!

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Posted by confused
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 29, 2009 at 10:14 am

I'm curious about the statement in the Almanac story that the city's GF balance is dropping by half a million dollars "in order to help fund a new expense in the budget -- setting aside money to pay for retiree health benefits -- bringing the town's reserves to $5.7 million."

Does this mean employees negotiated a new health benefit agreement that gives them health care after retirement? When did that happen? I thought public agencies were going in the opposite direction with employee costs since the economy collapsed. And what does that have to do with the reserves? Anyone know about this?

Like this comment
Posted by frustrated
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 29, 2009 at 10:37 am

Come on Almanac reporters! Dig into all of this information and report on it! This is serious stuff that the public needs to be aware of so they can hold those in charge accountable for their behaviour. Carmel Valley????? Lawsuits?? Now this money being set aside for retirement health plans??

Like this comment
Posted by Even straighter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Well-- I have seen Charles stick his face in frount of a camera on the evening news claiming to be in charge of employee retirement planning for the town if that helps explain anything--I think it was just after an ABAG conference in San Jose just under a year ago

Like this comment
Posted by audrey
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I say bring back the former finance director and former city manager.

They would never have stood for a lavish all expenses paid retreat for the chief of police and his senior staff.

Perhaps their intolerance of Atherton PD excesses is the real explanation for their having been bounced from the Town.

Like this comment
Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 3, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Some details to the above statements:

The conference was put on by the CA State Peace Officer Standard & Training (POST). The Facilitator was with Dave Hudson who has a contract Carmel Valley Lodge

Dave is certified by POST to conduct team building for Police Departments. This is normally done every five years. In Atherton’s case we have a new chief, new LT., and a new sergeant.

Atherton Police submitted an application to POST for approval before booking the retreat and the town will be reimbursed for the expense by the state.

In my opinion this is a valid use of time reimbursed by the state.

As far as my attendance at a meeting with twenty other council members and the Governor in San Jose in May 2009, I have been involved with the League of Cities since 2003 and worked with the League and Governor on two of his initiatives. The first was Prop-1A-2004, this measure passed and gives cities protection from the state with holding property tax revenue to balance the budget. Now the state is required to repay cities whenever it “borrows” funds within 3 years with interest.

I also worked on the Balance Budget initiative which failed.

In 2007 & 2008 I represented the cities of San Mateo County at the State Level on the League of Cities Policy Committee for Employee Relations as I wanted to work on a solution for Pension reform.

At the May meeting I opposed the initiatives the Governor was supporting. The media wanted to interview an opposing opinion and asked me.

My opinion was the tax increase was a band aid and did not fix the problem.. I cited my experience on the Policy Committee.


Charles Marsala
Council Member

Like this comment
Posted by Rickie
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I can never figure out if you are trying to brag or giving a signed confession but it would be nice to know if you attended the carmel police meeting to offer them all your expertise

Like this comment
Posted by one adam 12
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 4, 2009 at 9:57 am

Since Charles Marsala is so well connected, I would like to ask that he use his influence to have either the San Mateo County DA or the California Attorney General look into allegations that one or more sworn employees of the Atherton Police Department have been engaged in using town time and property to pursue outside employment.

Please note that Buckley's former husband made such an allegation under oath. Additionally, I am aware of a similar allegation having been brought another high ranking member of the Atherton PD.

One thing lending credibility to the allegation by Buckley is that the misuse of Atherton's criminal justice information system has happened before.

Like this comment
Posted by Anna
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 4, 2009 at 11:32 am

[Posts removed due to continual violations of the terms of use by the poster]

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Posted by laughing
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 4, 2009 at 11:54 am

Charles Marsala...I am positive the P.O.S.T did not pay for the lodging of the chief and most of the dept. in carmel valley. I am positive that P.O.S.T did not pay for transportation/meals and the overtime for thsoe that were there on days off or those who had to cover for the people that were enjoying a week in carmel valley. All P.O.S.T does is give credit for "training hours". Who paid for the facilitator? POST?? No. The town did. The tax payers did. Why then, could this meeting that is soooo critical because of one new chief (who has been there his entire career) one new lieutenant (who has also been there his entire career and one new sergeant, have been held for free at holbrook palmer park? Why then were all meals paid for? Why was so much money wasted on such a frivolous event? This is a meeting. A simple little meeting to decide the current state of affairs and what is up for the future? Why could this "event" take place in town or just next door in Menlo Park for free or a nominal fee? Charles...get the facts before you blather on and on! You look like a fool!

Like this comment
Posted by Oh ya
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

according to charles the state will be reimbursing the town. With what?? An I.O.U? Give me a break! There would not have to anything reimbursed if they had just stayed local like the above posting suggested. What a fraud. What a waste. In these economic times, the administrators have a duty and a responsibility to be fiscally responsible...not fiscally reckless thumbing their collective noses at the tax payers! Carmel Valley? Why not Pebble Beach?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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