Wednesday: Library, fire district, business tax on Atherton council agenda


Atherton's City Council will discuss several tax-related issues when it meets in a study session on Wednesday, Oct. 5, starting at 3 p.m. in the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road.

On the agenda is a proposal by the San Mateo County Libraries system to transfer some property tax money now earmarked for the Atherton Library to the county system, to be used for other libraries.

Atherton is part of a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that manages the county library system, along with Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside as well as San Mateo County.

The current Joint Powers Authority (JPA) agreement says all library property taxes go to the towns or cities that generated them. By state law the money can be used only for library-related expenses. Atherton is one of three so-called "donor cities" that generate excess funds; Woodside and Portola Valley are the other two.

Portola Valley has built a new library with its accumulated excess "donor" funds and Woodside has remodeled its library. Atherton also plans to build a new library with its accumulated excess library funds, currently about $11 million and growing by $1.23 million in the last fiscal year. Woodside added $439,212 to its donor fund last fiscal year and Portola Valley added $105,269.

The town is looking for feedback about a proposal that would give 50 percent of the tax money from the three donor cities to the JPA so it could be spent on other libraries.

Options, the staff report says include accepting the proposal, accepting the 50/50 split with provisions that allow the town to spend money on library-related costs before the money is split or rejecting the proposal.

In an April 2015 study session on the same issue, some council members and several speakers from the public suggested the town might consider withdrawing from the JPA so it had control of its own library money.

Also on the agenda is a related issue, how the Atherton property owners' taxes set aside for fire services are spent. The council wants a consultant to examine how much Atherton property tax actually goes to the fire district, and how much the district spends on services to Atherton.

On the agenda is the makeup of a subcommittee appointed to discuss the issue with the fire district. At its last meeting, the fire board said it would discuss the issue with the mayor, not the subcommittee, so the council is considering making the mayor part of the two-member subcommittee. That would avoid a possibly violation of the state's open meeting laws if three out of the five council members discussed the same issue with the fire board in a meeting not open to the public.

Also on the agenda is a discussion of possible ways for the town to increase revenues. The council has discussed major changes in its business license taxes, but council members wanted to review all the possible ways to increase revenues before going ahead.

The council will also discuss details of a recognition program to honor the achievements of local residents.

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