A year ago, at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, the district had $68.9 million in three reserve funds. The district estimates that when this fiscal year ends on June 30, it will have $55.3 million in the three funds.
The projected totals in the three reserve funds at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year are: $41.9 million in the general fund reserve (now at $40.2 million), $13 million in the capital improvements reserve (now at $12.2 million) and $3 million in the debt service reserve (now at $2.85 million).
The district provides fire and emergency medical services (not including ambulance transportation) in Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and some adjoining unincorporated neighborhoods. Last year's approved budget shows an estimated daytime population of more than 100,000 residents and employees within the district.
At the May 15 meeting, the board also gave preliminary approval to increasing the district's staff to the equivalent of 139 full-time positions, an increase of 6.5 percent over the 130.5 positions the district had a year ago. An additional 4.5 positions were added during the fiscal year, and the budget proposes adding four brand new positions.
The proposed budget does not include any new firefighting positions. The district currently has 20 firefighters, 49 engineers and 28 captains.
While the vote was unanimous, board President Chuck Bernstein expressed some reservations on the staffing.
"I feel a little uncomfortable" with the number of new employees, Bernstein said. "It's a lot of people to add," he said. "It's just hard for me to come to grips that the workload would have increased that much from one year to the next."
Bernstein said he hoped adding staff members would allow the district to begin keeping its administrative offices open five days a week; the offices are now closed on Fridays. The chief's report said the addition of a new full-time administrative specialist would allow a "trial run of office hours on Friday."
Board member Peter Carpenter said he was "very comfortable voting to approve" the budget and staffing proposals.
"There's a lot of money here," he said, but there are just two fundamental questions. One, he said, is "can we afford to do these things, and the answer is yes." The other is "do we need to do these things?"
Carpenter said the budget is "responding to the increased demands on the district."
"The number of people that we serve, particularly the daytime population, the number of square footage of buildings, etc. — these things are all growing," Carpenter said. "The other piece is the innovation piece. We've made a commitment to innovation and doing things differently.
"I think we as a board are doing exactly the right thing," he said.
One of the proposed new positions is a full-time senior management analyst whose job would be, according to the fire chief's report, "building, supporting, and managing the District's use of new and progressive technology," which, the report says, is "also called disruptive technology" and includes things such as the use of drones.
While the report did not include any information on salary or benefits for the positions, the base salary for a senior management analyst in 2017 was $83,000 to $124,000. An employee with that job title received $174,000 in total compensation (including benefits and district-paid retirement) during 2017.
The person in the new senior management analyst job will also "develop, manage and implement a system for evaluating the feasibility for adding disruptive technology at the District ... This position will help ensure the District is able to adapt and grow over the coming years," the chief's report says.
Property tax revenues
The executive summary of the budget shows property tax revenues are estimated to increase from $46.8 million this year to $48.4 million, a 3.6 percent increase. The board's policy is to underestimate the increase in property taxes, despite the actual growth in assessed values. The budget shows the district underestimated its property tax revenues by $2.5 million for the current fiscal year and $3.8 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Wages and benefits
Wages and benefits are budgeted to grow to $34.5 million, up by 10.8 percent from this fiscal year. The staff report says that amount does not include any salary growth for employees represented by the firefighters' union, which does not yet have an approved contract for the coming fiscal year.
With the expected increase in salary for that union included, wages and benefits could be up by 22.2 percent over the amount spent in the current fiscal year, the report says.
That total for wages and benefits includes $4.9 million in overtime, up 11.5 percent over the current fiscal year. Last year the district originally budgeted $4.1 million for overtime in the 2017-18 fiscal year but ended up spending $4.4 million.
The budget says that retirement costs are expected to be $5.7 million, 17.4 percent more than the current fiscal year's projected total.
The district has also budgeted setting aside $3.6 million to pay down its unfunded liabilities in the state's retirement fund. It paid down those liabilities by $6.2 million in 2016-17 and set aside $3 million for that purpose in 2017-18.
The district will discuss the budget again and take a final vote at its June meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 19.
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