Local towns are in the throes of planning their budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Meanwhile, federal COVID-19 relief funds are on the way to cities and towns across the country.
Atherton officials will evaluate how to allocate unused funds once its new civic center is completed this fall.
In Portola Valley, the pandemic spurred an increased need for staff as residents' service requests grew. The town is also seeing an increase in spending on wildfire prevention measures as fire threats grow in the state.
Woodside is experiencing increasing police costs, but otherwise isn't expecting many changes to the town's budget.
Below are more detailed updates on each town's finances in the year to come.
For fiscal year 2022, general fund revenues are projected at $17.4 million and general fund expenditures are expected to be $16.5 million, according to an agenda packet for a June 16 Atherton City Council meeting, where the council approved the budget. The council discussed the budget in four different meetings leading up to the vote.
About $10.6 million of the revenue will come from property taxes, according to a June 16 report prepared by staff.
The town will spend about $6.1 million to finish construction of its long-awaited civic center project, the report states.
Once the civic center project is completed (projected to be around October), staff recommends that the council consider uses for the unallocated funds.
A little over $9 million will go toward the police department, an increase from last year's police budget of $8.4 million, to account for some additional expenses, including the purchase of a new squad car, as well as increased salary and benefits costs.
The police department opted not to purchase electric vehicles, as staff found there are "very limited all-electric vehicle options with restrictive operational vehicle size," according to the report. Research also indicated that the major car makers will have very viable, pursuit-rated, all-electric police department vehicle options within about two years.
The town's reserves should stand at $8.4 million.
Other items in the budget: the Bayfront Canal/Atherton Channel Flood Protection and Ecosystem Restoration Project ($1.4 million), upgrades to Holbrook-Palmer Park with anticipated grant funding from Santa Clara County and the state Parks and Recreation Department ($1.1 million), administrative costs ($1 million), and road maintenance funded by a special parcel tax ($875,000).
The proposed budget notes that potential future construction of an amphitheater in the park would cost about $150,000.
The Portola Valley Town Council approved the 2022 fiscal year budget at its Wednesday, June 23, meeting. Staff project revenues of $6.1 million, or an increase of $438,991 (just under 8%) over last year's budget. About half of that revenue would come from property taxes, which are projected to be about $3 million for the fiscal year, according to the budget, an increase of 5.2% over the 2021 fiscal year budget.
"This tightening of the delta between general fund revenue and expenditures is an ongoing trend, even in the light of better-than-anticipated growth in property taxes over the last three years," staff wrote in the budget report.
Staff is developing budget forecasting and monitoring tools that are expected to be used for a proposed September budget revision.
Anticipated expenses will be $6.1 million, an increase of $397,587, or just under 7%, from the prior year's budget. Town reserves should stand at $5.9 million. The biggest changes include a $291,308 bump in spending on support staff salaries and benefits. The town's contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office has "grown considerably" to $997,407 this coming fiscal year from the estimated cost of $823,006 last year, according to the report.
There is an increase from $39,000 to $190,000 for right-of-way vegetation management to keep the town's roads clear during a wildfire.
"The CZU (Lightning Complex) fire (s) (in 2020) was, for many residents, the first time the reality of wildfire danger revealed itself, and the council's primary priority this year is continued mitigation and resiliency efforts," the report states.
Portola Valley has increased staffing needs as officials plan for updates to the town's housing and safety elements, along with pedestrian safety study improvements, major land-use projects, virtual emergency operations software, changes to the town's permit tracking software, a website refresh launch and expanded capabilities.
Included in this budget are funds for a full-time planner and full funding for a previously part-time financial analyst position. The council's priorities also explicitly support an emphasis on focusing town staff on the council's goals and not overpromising what can be accomplished in a fiscal year. Portola Valley has the fewest staff of any city in San Mateo County, according to town staff.
By every available metric, requests for staff time and services greatly increased in the last year, according to the proposed budget, wrote Town Manager Jeremy Dennis in the report. Examples include:
• Building permit applications increased 25%
• Code compliance complaints increased 72%
• Planning permit applications increased 70%
• Public Records Act requests increased over 1000%
• PV Connect service requests increased 157% (this includes trails, road, noise, dumping, graffiti or other similar issues)
Other items in the budget of note: a road resurfacing project ($302,929), enhancement and maintenance of the town's open spaces ($128,000), a study on undergrounding the town's utilities ($100,000) and purchasing software to allow for people to participate in government meetings both virtually and in person at the Historic Schoolhouse. ($79,800).
Woodside includes a 10-year forecast in its 2022 budget, which the council approved on Tuesday, June 22.
Revenue will come in at about $10 million, with about $4.2 million coming from property taxes, according to the budget document. Building and permit fees will account for about $1.3 million in revenue.
Expenditures total $12.2 million. The biggest costs are salaries and benefits for staff (about $2.7 million), $2 million for the police contract, about $881,000 for hazardous tree removal and $2.6 million for other services and supplies.
The police budget increased this year — by a little under $63,000 — because the town added overtime services, said Town Manager Kevin Bryant. The extra police services will help address the volume of traffic in a town that's on a route to the beach and popular destination for cyclists in the summer months, he explained.
American Rescue Plan Act
The federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) apportioned $65.1 billion to help support cities and towns hit by the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Treasury has only released final allocations for metropolitan cities so far.
Under the guidance, only pandemic-related expenditures can qualify for funding. Funds can be used:
• To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality
• To provide premium pay to eligible essential workers during the pandemic
• For the reductions in revenue due to the health emergency
• For investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure
Bryant did not include Woodside's estimated ARP funds in the town's budget, noting that it is in the "fortunate position" to not need the funds to balance its books.
"I suggested once we get more clarity, we will include it (ARP) in one of our quarterly reports," he explained. The town will receive the funds in July.
Atherton expects to receive $1.3 million in American Rescue Plan funds.
Portola Valley is anticipating just under $860,000. Over the summer, the Town Council will begin reviewing potential expenditures for the funds from the relief fund. Staff believe the following qualifies for relief:
• Lost revenue from classes, rentals of facilities and land-use projects suspended during the early stages of the pandemic, as well as for revenue lost for COVID-19 physical improvements and access to service
• Funds for businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19