Wed08202014

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Foothill field project may fall to budget ordeal

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier

An empty field on Foothill College land could become a multiuse playing field or remain a dream deferred by state budget woes.

Budgetary uncertainties last week tempered Los Altos Hills City Councilmembers’ interest in renovating a vacant lot behind Foothill College as a multipurpose playing field. Their hesitancy highlights a central instability in the town budget for the coming fiscal year: How much money will the state deduct from funds normally consigned to the town and when would that occur?

Town staff met with Foothill College president Judy Miner last month to discuss the shared use of the field and are working on a proposal to solidify usage hours and funding, but it might not go beyond the planning stages.

The town is bracing for the possibility the state might withhold $370,000 to mitigate its own budget deficit. The sum would be returned within three years, city finance director Nick Pegueros said at the May 28 city council meeting.

He said the anticipated reduction – 8 percent from property-tax revenues and $100,000 from COPS, regional grant funding for public safety programs – would decrease the town's 2010 general fund revenues by $370,000 to approximately $5.1 million. Pegueros anticipates a 1.97 percent increase in property-tax revenue for fiscal year 2010, which would slightly lessen the total reduction.

According to Pegueros, the town's projected budget anticipates the hit from the state. The general fund would operate with a surplus of $764,000 with the state takeaways and $1.02 million without them.

"If the state ends up not taking the money, we're in a better position," Pegueros said. "We won't have to dip into our unrestricted fund balance."

If the town pursues the field arrangement with Foothill College – developing a lot in exchange for use of the land – Parks and Recreation Director Eric Christensen said installing synthetic turf, as planned, could cost nearly $500,000. The town would contribute $200,000 to the project and rely on outside sources, including local athletic groups, for the remainder.

"Two hundred thousand dollars is a bit of stretch this year," said Councilman Breene Kerr. "In my experience, public works projects like this can sometimes take two years to get rolling."

Councilmembers agreed that other public works projects, such as the anticipated $880,000 seismic retrofitting of the Westwind Community Barn's north wing, could preclude additional projects.

"I don't really want to spend this kind of money right now," Councilman Rich Larsen said of the Foothill field.

The town already faces authorized expenditures of $800,000 for street resurfacing, $440,000 in general sewer improvements and $100,000 in general pathways improvements, among other projects.

Pegueros reported reductions in planning and building fees – an ancillary revenue source for the town – of $53,000 due to the weak economy.

"(The town), and other agencies, in uncertain economic times, will take a second look at spending large sums of money like this," Pegueros said of the practice field project.

Los Altos Hills Mayor Jean Mordo said he is hesitant to spend money when use of the field is uncertain.

"Assuming we are willing to spend the money on this, what will (Foothill College) give us in exchange?" he said. "The only way to figure that out is to put together a specific proposal."

Contact Elliott Burr at 948-9000.

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