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Roads and sewers weigh heavy in proposed budget for Los Altos Hills


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills’ 2014-2015 budget focuses on roads and sewers and allocates funds to clean up O’Keefe Preserve, above.

During a four-hour joint meeting of the Los Altos Hills City Council and the Finance and Investment Committee June 4, the council reviewed a tentative budget proposal of approximately $8 million in expenditures.

“Overall, it’s a good-news budget, but the devil is in the details,” City Manager Carl Cahill said.

The budget as proposed would leave Los Altos Hills’ general fund – the town’s primary operating fund for most day-to-day activities – balanced, with a $6,946 surplus. The 2014-2015 budget will be reviewed once more over the summer before the council finalizes it.

With property-tax revenue increasing and an adjustment that moves fees nearer to the actual cost of providing them, the Los Altos Hills General Fund budget could be nearly balanced. General-fund revenue is projected at $7.4 million and expenditures at approximately $8 million.

But newly recommended projects – including $501,000 for road rehabilitation and an estimated $400,000 for sewer system updates – would drive expenses up. If the council approves the additional road funding, expenditures for the town’s street fund could balloon from $550,000 in 2013-2014 to nearly $1.1 million in 2014-2015. The possible transition of 16 private roads into the town’s street system is partially responsible for the rise in costs.

Although some expenses are automatically incorporated in the budget each year – overhead costs for administration and law enforcement services, for example – the town regularly incurs periodic, one-time expenses and unexpected financial demands. The unanticipated expenses are of concern to councilmembers, who worried that reserve funds could diminish too quickly without prudent stewardship.

“If we keep doing this, we’ll have only one year of reserves left in our fund,” Mayor John Radford said during discussion of sewer project proposals.

Town staff justified the expense of updating the sewer monitoring system with database-connected video, citing the recent increase in costly cleanups for sewer overflows and backups. To ensure that proposed expenditures are judicious, the council formed a sewer subcommittee to review the proposals before the council’s final vote.

Among the funds budgeted for other new programs: $70,000 to hire a planner to review the town’s state-mandated housing element update; $48,000 to fund four summer interns; $40,000 to repave and restripe El Monte Road in partnership with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority; $40,000 of reserve funds for projects at Westwind Community Barn; $37,575 for the O’Keefe Preserve Restoration Project; and $24,600 for the November general election.

Despite Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan’s arguments against continuing the town’s donations to local nonprofit organizations, the council budgeted $60,000 for the program. It also earmarked $45,000 for the annual town picnic.

For the video of last week’s meeting, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov/city-government/city-council/reports.

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