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Charities take center stage during Los Altos Hills budget talks


Courtesy of the Town of Los Altos Hills
Although Los Altos Hills’ 2014-15 budget of $12.8 million carries a general fund deficit of $34,000, City Manager Carl Cahill reported that a $4 million general-fund balance and reserves for storm drain, pathway and street maintenance leaves the town in “sound fiscal health.”

While the allocation of $2.3 million for sewer costs was among the largest expenditures in Los Altos Hills’ 2014-2015 budget, the appropriation of $30,000 to continue community service grant programs monopolized the discussion at Thursday’s city council meeting.

After local residents characterized the town’s grant program as a “Tammany Hall-style” move by altruistic councilmembers who were “currying favor with nonprofits,” Mayor John Radford lashed out at the perception that had been prompted by what he implied was a rogue campaign by one of his colleagues – Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan.

“I’m tired of this discussion when it comes to impugning the integrity of council,” Radford said. “This council works very hard. … We make a number of decisions about where we spend your money and a number of them involve charitable organizations, but we don’t call them ‘charitable contributions.’”

Corrigan’s primary argument that the town should not “rob Peter to pay Paul” using taxpayer money – particularly with a general-fund budget deficit of $64,000 (later lowered to $30,000 with the reduction in grant funding) – did not sit well with other councilmembers, who felt that she was unfairly using the budget as a platform for targeting the grant program.

Radford pointed out some contradictions, citing Corrigan’s vote in favor of increasing the town’s subsidy for Los Altos & Los Altos Hills Little League, which rents Purissima Park year-round, plus her acceptance that some organizations that receive grants do have community-building benefits.

“Is that any worse than giving $30,000 for 150 (Los Altos Hills) kids (of the 805 players) who play Little League?” Radford said. “Every time we get down to what we should do, the arguments against the program just don’t hold water.”

Councilman Gary Waldeck said the discussion on the validity of the town’s community service grants was a “kind of wake-up call,” but he maintained that the council has a responsibility to serve the community – even if the benefits extend only to a small segment of the population.

“As a relatively staunch Republican, I didn’t like the idea of giving money away,” he said. “But as a councilmember, you have to look at the bigger picture.”

Citing the importance of thinking regionally but acting locally, Waldeck argued that residents benefit from many resources that do not fall within town borders: downtown Los Altos shops and organizations, for example.

“These are the rationales that I’ve come to realize benefit our community. … Without them, you tax both yourself and your children,” he said.

Although Radford and Waldeck wanted to cap the grant budget at $60,000 until the 17 beneficiaries submitted reports in July or August on how the funds benefit the town, Councilmen John Harpootlian and Rich Larsen voted with Corrigan to reduce the community service grant budget from $60,000 to $30,000.

The 2014-2015 budget includes $1.1 million for street repairs, $2.4 million for capital projects and $2.3 million for sewer operations and expenditures.

The general fund will have a small operating deficit of $34,000, but City Manager Carl Cahill reported that a $4 million general-fund balance and $1.6 million in reserve for storm drain, pathway and street maintenance leaves the town in “sound fiscal health.”

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